Sunday 19 February 2012

Three essential reads

I have been asked to take on this meme, but have been finding it a bit tricky. I am a decided "digital immigrant" (though probably quite a competent one) rather than a "digital native" so I don't actually do Kindle or i-Pad, or Blackberry, or anything else of that ilk.

However, here are my three essential reads.

1. News of  the latest "must have" invention, which is essential reading if you want to understand the features of Kindle et al. I do sometimes wonder what answer young people would give to the question, "What is a desk top?", and it would be quite illustrative of whether or not they understand from where much of today's IT terminology originates. I am a decided lover of having a solid object, made of pages that you can turn and mark (I have taken to using post-it notes to mark pages I want to remember) - well, in reaility, a lover of perhaps more like one or two thousand such objects! I must count at some point ...

2. One could download Biblia Clerus from the site of the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy. If you maximise your choice of download options, you get the texts of Sacred Scripture in different versions/languages and a wide range of commentary material from the Fathers, from Popes and from the Councils of the Church. I think it should go on i-Pad, am doubtful that it goes on Kindle.

3. For my last choice, I have run up against the distinction between "essential" as "must have out of very principle" and "essential" as "what I personally could not do without". I think I have gone for the first of these definitions, and I am looking to suggest a book that could represent the 20th century to the people of the 21st century. Two suggestions: firstly, Alexander Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago, full three volume edition rather than the abridged one volume edition so that you gain a sense of the sheer scale of the book. I am not sure whether or not it is still in print, but it can be obtained via Amazon's marketplace. I have a particular memory of the account of the construction of an important canal, a major engineering feat, using slave labour. The official papers record that the number of workers employed on this task was the same at the beginning as at the end, but Solzhenitsyn points out, based on eye witness testimony and with a touch of sarcasm, that this does not mean that the same workers were employed at the end as at the beginning. Many died because of poor conditions and forced manual labour. The First Circle might be another Solzhenitsyn choice, as it suggests how scientific research in Soviet Russia depended on prisoner labour. My particular memory is of research into voice recognition technology, so that the state could listen in to communications and identify those involved, which provides a particular cultural significance to the more benign developments such as automatic audio and image recognition systems used today in CCTV based systems. My main second choice here would be Eugenio Corti's Il Cavallo Rosso (english translation The Red Horse). This is a biographical novel telling the story of an Italian family, reaching from the tragic involvement of Italy in the Russian campaign of the Second World War, the switch of sides with its poor leadership that led to sad events in Cephalonia since made famous by Captain Corelli's Mandolin, and to the partisan campaigns against the Germans; the campaign by Catholics against Communist influence immediately after the war and against the legalisation of divorce in Italy, which has resonance to contemporary discussion of secularisation; and eventually telling the story of a brother who moves to Africa to found a mission hospital. Many years later, in real life, the hospital being referred to in the novel would undertake a particular mission in treating HIV patients, and, with the death of the hospital's medical director and some other staff, play a heroic role in responding to an outbreak of the Ebola virus.

Wednesday 15 February 2012

Baroness Warsi and the place of religion in UK society

Yesterday, I posted sympathetically on Baroness Warsi's article in the Daily Telegraph, an article which was a synopsis of the lecture that she gave later in the day to the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy in the Vatican. Cranmer was less sympathetic, which prompts some further observations on my part.

The first thing apparent to me in reading Baroness Warsi's Daily Telegraph article was that there was a proximity between what she was trying to say and the position presented by Pope Benedict XVI in his Westminster Hall address in September 2010. That address was, for me, the most significant speech of the Papal Visit. In her speech at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, Baroness Warsi explicitly recognised her debt to that speech:
On a personal level, I heeded the words of the Holy Father during his landmark speech in Westminster Hall.
Now, it seems to me of tremendous significance that anyone in a key position at the top of one of our major political parties - oh, and in the Cabinet, too - should recognise the significance of that speech in Westminster Hall. So far as I can gather looking in from the outside at the world of politics in the UK, the warmth with which that speech was applauded has been equally matched by the ignoring of its content in the subsequent activity of politicians. Baroness Warsi excepted, who has at least spoken of its significance.

I think that there is also something to be recognised about the nature of "membership" organisations, such as political parties and, within my own experience, trade unions. Such organisations have their processes for arriving at policy positions adopted and prosecuted by the organisation as organisation; but they retain within their membership a certain pluralism between those who supported and those who opposed a particular policy position. Members make prudential judgements about remaining members of such organisations when they adopt a policy that they individually would oppose, as they can still support the range of other policies that the party or union promotes. I point this out as a way of understanding Baroness Warsi's position as a member of a Government which seems about to implement a policy with regard to marriage that flies in the face of the position about the place of religions in relation to politics that she has expounded. It is my judgement that she has expressed not  what one might term a "personal view" that is contradicted in her practice, but a view that is genuinely lived in her political practice, and it is helpful to understand how this is done in relation to the different approaches of other political colleagues.

But Cranmer does have a point. The forthcoming consultation/legislation about marriage between same-sex partners really is a testing ground for that appropriate inter-relation of religion and political decision making that Pope Benedict advocated in his Westminster Hall speech and which Baroness Warsi took up again in speaking to the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy:
One of the arguments of the liberal elite is that faith and reason are incompatible.

But they don't realise, as the Holy Father has argued for many years, that faith and reason go hand in hand.
As he said to us in Westminster Hall:
"...the world of secular rationality and the world of religious belief...need one another and should not be afraid to enter into a profound and ongoing dialogue, for the good of our civilisation."  
In other words, just as reason should not be excluded from debates about faith... too spirituality should not be excluded when we look at worldly matters.
Will the consultation about marriage for same-sex partners really enter into a proper dialogue with representatives of religion, genuinely recognising that the style of reason that comes from religion needs to be a full and effective partner in the final outcome? Or will it just run with the ideologically motivated premise of "equality" that is not essentially equal at all? Has the coalition government been "nobbled" by the gay rights lobby as was the Blair administration (cf the admission by Sir Ian McKellen in a speech at a Stonewall event that he had visited Tony Blair on behalf of Stonewall before he became Prime Minister, and that Tony Blair had agreed at that meeting to deliver on a pro-gay agenda)? Since Baroness Warsi is not the lead on this question, this is perhaps a question for her
Government colleagues, but it does need to be put to them.
Or, as Cranmer put it:
The problem isn’t the paltry number of ‘militant secularists’ or the rise of ‘aggressive secularism’: it’s the gulf that exists between what Baroness Warsi is preaching and what HM Government is practising. If Pope Benedict has got half a brain (which he surely has, along with two or three other halves as well) he must be wondering what on earth this woman takes him for.
Cranmer might be reassured about the three halves of Pope Benedict's brain by this, taken from the last paragraph of the joint communique issued at the end of the British ministerial delegation's visit to the Holy See (remember that the Holy Father has on more than one occasion recently referred to marriage as being between one man and one woman):
...appreciation was expressed for the significant contribution which the Catholic Church, and Christians in general, have made and continue to make to the good of British society. The Holy See emphasised the need to ensure that institutions connected with the Catholic Church can act in accordance with their own principles and convictions and stressed the necessity of safeguarding the family based on marriage, religious freedom and freedom of conscience.

Tuesday 14 February 2012

"We stand side by side with the Pope in fighting for faith"

Baroness Warsi has written a most interesting piece in the Daily Telegraph today, with the title We stand side by side with the Pope in fighting for faith. It begins:
Today I have the honour of leading the largest ministerial delegation from the United Kingdom to the Vatican – our reciprocal visit following the momentous State Visit of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI in September 2010.
and it includes the observation that the diplomatic relationship between the United Kingdom and the Vatican is not only the oldest of the United Kingdom's diplomatic relationships but, as a result of the visit of Pope Benedict XVI in 2010, also one of the strongest. Baroness Warsi has also written a piece entitled "Common Goals" for l'Osservatore Romano, the text of which is being carried, here, by But to return to the piece in the Daily Telegraph:
I will be arguing that to create a more just society, people need to feel stronger in their religious identities and more confident in their creeds. In practice this means individuals not diluting their faiths and nations not denying their religious heritages.

This is a message I’ve delivered on these pages before. But today I will be taking the argument one step further. I will be arguing for Europe to become more confident and more comfortable in its Christianity. The point is this: the societies we live in, the cultures we have created, the values we hold and the things we fight for all stem from centuries of discussion, dissent and belief in Christianity.

These values shine through our politics, our public life, our culture, our economics, our language and our architecture. And, as I will say today, you cannot and should not extract these Christian foundations from the evolution of our nations any more than you can or should erase the spires from our landscapes.

My fear today is that a militant secularisation is taking hold of our societies. We see it in any number of things: when signs of religion cannot be displayed or worn in government buildings; when states won’t fund faith schools; and where religion is sidelined, marginalised and downgraded in the public sphere....

I am not calling for some kind of 21st century theocracy. Religious faith and its followers do not have the only answer. There will be times when politicians and faith leaders will disagree. What is more, secularism is not intrinsically damaging. My concern is when secularisation is pushed to an extreme, when it requires the complete removal of faith from the public sphere. So I am calling for a more open confidence in faith, where faith has a place at the table, though not an exclusive position
My own observations:

1. It is, of course, interesting to see a Muslim arguing for "Europe to become more confident and more comfortable in is Christianity". And it is doubly interesting to see this being done in a way that is in such close agreement with the stance of Pope Benedict. The interest is not just political - though that would be enough in itself - but it is also religious in nature. What we have here is an interesting example of inter-religious dialogue in practice. A common interest in the recognition that religion has a place in the life of peoples provides the basis for a common action.

2. I would like to unpack more carefully Baroness Warsi's use of the terms "faith" and "religion". This becomes more apparent when you read the whole text, rather than just my excerpts above. There has been a certain fashion for referring to "faith" in public and political discourse rather than to particular "religions", as if you could prescind from considering the specific religions, both those historically present in the United Kingdom and those whose presence has grown more recently, in the discussion. It is a fashion that has a secularising tendency towards the place of religion in public and political life. If I have understood Baroness Warsi correctly, she appears willing to refer to religion in the more specific way.

3. One should not underestimate the international perspective of Baroness Warsi's words. Some of the references in the penultimate paragraph of my excerpt above are to events in Fance and Italy as well as this country; and they also have some reference to the experience of Muslim communities and not just Christians. This gives here words an added political significance.

4. In the light of this post, I would wish to distinguish "secularism", understood as an appropriate separation of the state from the promotion of one religion over others, from "secularisation", understood as the denial to religion(s) of any place in the public and political life of a country. Baroness Warsi's condemnation of "a militant secularisation" is clearly aimed at what I would term "secularisation". When she writes of "secularism" as something not intrisically damaging in the last paragraph of my excerpt above she appears to go some way towards what I have understood by that term. It is interesting to see this kind of position being developed by a Muslim.

5. Some have observed that they rather wish the Catholic Bishops would come out with statements as strong and clear as that of Baroness Warsi. One could argue in response that this lecture by Archbishop Nichols addresses from a different angle many of the issues underlying Baroness Warsi's words and is equally clear in arguing for a place for religions in the life of our society. I suspect, too, that it would be possible to find other examples among the words of our Bishops. But the real point is that Baroness Warsi can "say something" that a Bishop or Imam cannot, and this because of her office as a politician and as a holder of politcal office, rather than as being someone who holds an office in religion. The real challenge of her words is to prominent Catholics who are politicians or hold political office, and not to the Catholic Bishops.

6. It will be interesting to see what different sections of the Islamic world make of Baroness Warsi's words, particularly with regard to her not advocating a modern form of theocracy.

7. Baroness Warsi's article does have a particularly moving element in so far as ituggests something about her contacts with Pope Benedict XVI. In the light of recent events in the UK, it is quite something for a prominent Cabinet member to give, in quite a personal way, an "absolute commitment to continue fighting for faith in today's society":
When I met the Holy Father in 2010 he told me that he had heard what I had been saying and urged me to carry on making my case robustly....

So when I have my second audience with the Holy Father tomorrow afternoon, I will not just be looking back on his remarkable visit. I will be giving him my absolute commitment to continue fighting for faith in today’s society. I hope this is something we can share in and I hope it reinforces this extraordinary relationship between the UK and the Holy See.

Monday 13 February 2012

"The pictures are better on the radio": World Radio Day

A newsletter from SIGNIS has alerted me to the fact that today is being marked by the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) as World Radio Day. UNESCO suggest that radio "remains the medium to reach the widest audience", which is an interesting observation as we stand on the cusp of a change from a developed world dominated by television to one dominated by the internet. However, if we read an article entitled "The Queen of Information" at the UNESCO website, we realise that it is the adoption of new technology - namely, internet radio and the availability of podcasts and listen again facilities - that is helping radio achieve a world leading position among the means of communication. The role of radio in poorer nations is also reflected in this article.

The UNESCO website has a list of some important dates in the development of radio. The last date on the list is 24th March 1980.
24 March 1980 : Anniversary of the murder of Archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Arnulfo Romero. He was a great communicator and demonstrated radio's potential to promote and defend human rights.
Archbisop Romero's Sunday homilies, in which he spoke of and offered an evaluation of the current events in his country, were broadcast on the diocesan radio station. They were listened to assiduously by his people.

The reasons for the celebration of a World Radio Day are outlined on the UNESCO website:
Radio is the mass media reaching the widest audience in the world. It is also recognized as a powerful communication tool and a low cost medium. Radio is specifically suited to reach remote communities and vulnerable people: the illiterate, the disabled, women, youth and the poor, while offering a platform to intervene in the public debate, irrespective of people’s educational level. Furthermore, radio has a strong and specific role in emergency communication and disaster relief.
Vatican Radio's coverage for the day is as follows: Vatican Radio's inauguration: a sound picture , Christian Radio, the Virgin and the bomb and Pius XII : a microphone to enable human hearts to beat as one.

My own view is that radio is a medium that demands a higher level of engagement by the person who listens than does television. It is less passive, and more active. It is also a medium that asks for sustained attention, rather than the short seconds-only attention span expected by much visual media today. For that reason, the pictures are better on the radio - and they go round corners, too, so you can still be listening while you are in another room doing the chores ...

Sunday 12 February 2012

The new bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes

Others (here, and here with particular reference to Mgr Brouwet's mission as auxiliary of Nanterre, and here, praising a friend of "Tradition") have commented on the appointment of Mgr Nicholas Brouwet to be the next Bishop of the diocese of Lourdes and Tarbes.

The CV provided on the announcement ends with the following:
È membro dell’Institut Saint-Jean (Johannesgemeinschaft) fondato dal teologo Hans Urs von Balthasar. [He is a member of the Institute of St John founded by the theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar.]
This is something at least as interesting and full of potential in connection with Mgr Brouwet's ministry in respect of  Lourdes. How will the influence of Adrienne von Speyr and Hans Urs von Balthasar be apparent?

A moment of reflection, secularism and secularisation (or a comment on public prayers and a health services mandate)

For some time now, BBC Radio 2's Sunday morning programme has, instead of the previous prayer, asked its contributors to offer a "moment of reflection" just before the 08.00 news bulletin. This is a pattern that is also followed in some schools at assemblies (though one should also recognise that many schools quite simply do not hold assemblies that are recognisable as the "act of worship" that assemblies are intended to be).

The "moment of reflection" is offered as an answer to the question of a multi-religious community. Should Muslims and Jews, for example, be put in a position where they have to participate in Christian prayers that do  not correspond to the content of their own religious beliefs and which, theologically speaking, understand prayer in a different way than does their own religion? It does, however, also address another question that could be readily conflated with that about a multi-religious community but which should perhaps be recognised as a question of quite a different nature. This is the question about the person of no religious belief at all, who not only does not wish to be in a position where they have to participate in Christian prayers but does not wish to take part in any expression of religion whatsoever.

The first question is one about "secularism" if, by that term, we intend that the instruments of public life remain neutral between one religion and another, and do not advocate or practise one religion in preference over another. In France such an idea is denoted by the term "laicite", "lay-ness" and in other countries by the idea of "separation of Church and State". It intends to give different religions an equitable place in public life and policy; it does not intend to remove religions from the public space. The idea of an "appropriate secularity" underpins the address of Pope Benedict XVI in Westminster Hall in September 2010.

The second question is one about "secularisation" if, by that term, we intend the removal of religious expression from public life, be that in terms of political decision making or in the general practices of our public institutions.

I suspect that the idea of the "moment of reflection" has for many of those involved the intention of delivering "secularism"; the reality, however, in my view, is that it in reality delivers "secularisation". For the person with no religious belief, "reflection" is a full expression of what they believe. In principle, a religious believer can participate in a "moment of reflection" without violating their conscience; but in doing so they are not taking part in prayer, and it is prayer that is the fully authentic expression of their religious belief, not "reflection". The danger in the present context (see below, and the widespread coverage elsewhere in the blogosphere) is that, should religious believers accept the idea of the "moment of reflection", they are in reality aquiescing in the removal of prayer from the public sphere as the authentic expression of religion, and accepting "reflection" as a substitute for it. And there is a point at which this aquiescence does become a violation of conscience.

This analysis has relevance to the activity of President Obama's administration with regard to mandating contraception and abortion provision for health insurance arrangements. Has a system of government based on "secularism" - separation of Church and State - in a state that remains profoundly (multi-)religious in its culture attempted to impose "secularisation"? Are sections of the public life of American society being asked to conform to a standard in health care that does not respect the authentic expression of their religious (or, indeed, simply moral) consciousness, under the guise of "secularism", but with a reality of "secularisation"?

This analysis has relevance to the court judgement that the saying of prayers at the beginning of Council meetings is unlawful. In the context of the UK, this is not simply a question of "secularism" and "secularisation" because constitutionally the UK does not have a separation of Church and State. The constitutional arrangement recognises the Church of England as the official religion of state. Much of the practice of public life is, in effect, neutral with regard to religious belief, so in that sense a certain "secularism" does exist. Does the recent court judgement represent this element of "secularism" or, as I would think, does it in reality represent "secularisation"? After all, not saying prayers is an authentic expression for the person who has no religious belief; but it fails to be such an expression for the one who does have religious belief. But there is an added element provided by the historic place of the Church of England in the public life of the UK. My own view is that, though the UK is historically Christian through the place of the Church of England in its history and present day constitution, a justification for a preferred place for manifestations of that Christian life in public practice arises, not in itself from the history received from the past, but from the continued living of that Christian history in the present day. One can adapt a thought of Pope Benedict XVI in the address that he was due to give during his visit to La Sapienza university in January 2008 to suggest that, for the UK, the experience of the Church of England provides a historical source of human wisdom that continues to have a reasonableness and enduring significance for the country today. This does create the basis for a presumption in favour of Christian prayers at particular moments of public life. And, so far as I can tell, many of religious beliefs other than Christianity are willing to share in this as an essentially religious act.

There is an irony in that there were reviews in some newspapers a couple of weeks ago of a book that argues that those who do not have a religious belief nevertheless retain a need for some form of action analagous to that of religious worship ...


Bloggers sometimes have to to the ordinary things of real life - like stripping wall paper and taking delivery of new furniture - so I didn't make it to Mass on Friday for St Scholastica or yesterday for the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. In Brentwood Diocese, Our Lady of Lourdes is a Feast, too, rather than a Memorial, as she is one of  the patrons of the Diocese.

In consequence, it was quite delightful to read this post at Tigerish Waters. I am not sure that I appreciate the musical setting of the audio/video clip as much as Rita (it seems a bit esoteric for my tastes), but the words are beautiful.

Having visited Subiaco, Monte Cassino and Lourdes there is a resonance to these celebrations that would not otherwise be there. Is this part of the sense of pilgrimage, and part of the mission of places of pilgrimage in the life of the Church?

Tuesday 7 February 2012

On the good use of illness

This is the title of a post reporting the words of Pope Benedict XVI at the Angelus in St Peter's Square on Sunday last, 5th February. The full text of the Angelus address is here, in Italian.
“Illness can be a salutary moment in which to experience the attention of others and to pay attention to others.".... Illness, the Pope added, is a typically human condition in which we feel strongly that we are not self-sufficient but need others.
For some, particularly those whose illness arises from old age and is therefore likely to extend over a longer period of time, the experience of depending on others is difficult. One of the things that I sometimes say when I find myself in the position of visiting someone who is sick is that it is alright to be dependent on the care of others, and that most of us have had situations when we have cared for others and it is natural for us to have a time when we too need to be cared for.  Human life has a natural dynamic of our caring for others and our being cared for by others in our turn.

Another aspect of Pope Benedict's words applies to those who visit the sick. Illness represents a particular moment in which the visitor can "pay attention" to the one who is sick. It is not just a special moment for the one who is sick, but also for the one who visits, particularly for family members or close friends. Sometimes that visiting is difficult - a patient suffering from dementia or who is unable to speak, for example - but it always retains its nature of being a special moment, a moment which I describe with the word "irreplaceable".
Tuttavia, nella malattia, abbiamo tutti bisogno di calore umano: per confortare una persona malata, più che le parole, conta la vicinanza serena e sincera. [Above all, in illness, we all have need of human warmth: to comfort the person who is ill, more than words, what counts is a calm and sincere closeness.]
At the beginning of his message for the forthcoming World Day for the Sick on 11th February, Pope Benedict uses a phrase which puts this question of the value of sickness, or, more precisely, the valuing of the person who is sick, in the context of the culture of life. I would perhaps add that it is also a question of the person who is sick being able to value their own experience of illness, of their being able to welcome their own human life even when it manifests weakness.
 In the generous and loving welcoming of every human life, above all of weak and sick life, a Christian expresses an important aspect of his or her Gospel witness, following the example of Christ, who bent down before the material and spiritual sufferings of man in order to heal them.

Sunday 5 February 2012

We are asked to believe in our own unimportance

This post at iBenedictines has drawn my attention to a section of chapter 7 of the Rule of St Benedict. My translation is a different one to that used in the post at iBenedictines, though reading the two different translations together does draw out somewhat the relevant nuance:
The seventh degree of humility is that he consider himself lower and of less account than anyone else, and this not only in verbal protestation but alsow ith the most heartfelt inner conviction, humbling himself and saying with the Prophet, "But I am a worm and no man, the scorn of men and the outcast of the people. After being exalted, I have been humbled and covered with confustion". And again, "It is good for me that You have humbled me, that I may learn Your commandments".
iBenedictines observes that St Benedict appears a bit over the top in suggesting that we should go around telling everyone how useless we are, but suggests that we should pay more careful attention to the opening words ("of less account") to notice the following:
We are asked, first of all, to believe in our own unimportance. That is not quite the same as proclaiming our unworthiness. In fact, it is a much quieter business altogether, which is why most of us don’t like it.
 It is tempting to think that one's blog, and what one says on it, is vitally important. It might be worthwhile instead to develop a healthy sense of its unimportance. Myself included.

Saturday 4 February 2012

Gay marriage: divided witness (3)

One of the points to civil partnerships, or at least a point made during the political debate that preceded legislation permitting civil partnerships in the UK, is that they are not marriages. That leaves open the possibility that a Catholic might be supportive of the legislation that gives the opportunity to cohabiting same-sex couples to have the same civil and material rights with respect to each other (inheritance, partners pension benefits, tenancy succession and the like) as married couples whilst at the same time not endorsing the same-sex sexual activity, the same-sex union that goes alongside it. But does that really work?

From the point of view of someone who is a Catholic, could they legitimately enter into a civil partnership on the basis that it is just a mechanism in law that assures their civil and material rights? There might be some degree of analogy to a married person who divorces their husband or wife and then does not re-marry - the divorce establishes a framework in which the civil and material good of those affected can be secured though, from the point of view of Catholic belief, the couple are still married. But these two situations are not symmetric. After the civil partnership, the same-sex couple will live together, quite possibly continue to live together; and it would be the case that same-sex union/sexual activity is reasonably presumed to take place (unless there is evidence to the contrary). The public nature of the civil partnership means that this behaviour contrary to the moral teaching of the Church is a matter of public record, just as a second marriage after divorce would be a matter of public record.

Should a Catholic express support for legislative provision for same-sex couples, that is, for civil partnerships as they presently exists in the UK? If they are to do so, a very careful distinction needs to be made clear. The support is not for the same-sex union. The support is for the natural justice in civil and material provision for people who have shared a common life over a period of time. [This is what I have understood to be the position expressed by Archbishop Nichols', and it should not be argued that it is against Catholic teaching.] The difficulty is that, while the Catholic might make this careful distinction, those who promoted and continue to promote civil partnerships do not. For them, it is about promoting the same-sex union as well as the civil and material justice and, with some benefit of hindsight in relation to the present advocacy of gay marriage, simply a step on the way to treating same-sex unions on identical terms to opposite-sex married unions. It might well be a wiser prudential judgement in these circumstances to straightforwardly express opposition to the legislation for civil partnerships.

What can be done to alleviate the element of divided witness arising over the question of civil partnerships? The Bishops Conference of England and Wales could promulgate legislation for the dioceses of our countries according to which Catholics who have entered into civil partnerships are not permitted to receive Holy Communion. Priests should then be able with due prudence and charity - it would be their part in alleviating the divided witness - to refuse Communion to those they know are in civil partnerships. The situation with regard to Catholics in civil partnerships would then be the same as those who are divorced and re-married. In neither case is it a question of discrimination, since those affected are still able to take part in the life of the Church, but one of being consistent in witness to Catholic moral teaching and its significance for ecclesial communion.

Gay Marriage: divided witness (2)

I have not in the past commented on the "Soho Masses", and this for two reasons. The first reason is that I have been anxious not to join in with a chorus of "bishop bashing", particularly a chorus aimed at Archbishhop Nichols. The second reason is that the sources that have been most vociferously critical on the matter are not sources that I feel able to rely on with regard to factual accuracy and with regard to correctly understanding the issues at stake. Since I have no direct knowledge of the events at Our Lady of the Assumption and St Gregory, I have found myself unable to judge as to the accuracy or otherwise of their reports. [Some might not like reading this, but I think they might need to reflect on how they can make themselves more credible as sources to people like myself.]

But at the level of a witness to Catholic teaching about marriage and sexuality, there is a problem. That problem arises from the disparity between the theory of the "Soho Masses" and what actually happens. As Fr Tim points out at the end of his post Gay Mass Bidding Prayers video:
The Catholic Church in England and Wales will have no credibility in opposing legislation for gay marriage while this is allowed to continue in the heart of London.
It is interesting, though, to look a bit more closely at the theory. This can be found in three documents: the statement issued by the Diocese of Westminster on 2nd February 2007 concerning its outreach and ministry to homosexual persons, the statement of the Soho Masses Pastoral Council of the same date and the short press release from the Diocese in December 2007. All three can be downloaded from the foot of this page at the Soho Masses website.

First, the section headed "Underlying Principles" from the first Diocesan press release, posted here in full:
The Mission of the Church is to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ and to minister to all people in his name. All people are created in the image and likeness of God and thus possess an innate human dignity that must be acknowledged and respected. (Catechism of the Catholic Church par 1700-1702). In understanding this teaching, the Church teaches that homosexual persons "must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity" (Catechism of the Catholic Church par 2358). The Church utterly condemns all forms of unjust discrimination, violence, harassment or abuse directed against people who are homosexual. The Church recognises that "it is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors wherever it occurs." (Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons). The Church’s pastoral outreach recognises that baptised persons with a homosexual inclination continue to look to the Church for a place where they might live in authentic human integrity and holiness of life. Being welcomed and participating in their local faith community is the foundation of spiritual support that the Church offers to them. Full and active participation is encouraged.

This full and active participation takes place within the context of the wider Church and specifically within existing parish structures and pastoral services, always of course in accordance with the Church’s teaching and liturgical norms. In seeking to meet these pastoral needs there would be no attempt to create separate congregations and exclusive services out of step with the Church’s teaching.

That teaching has been laid out in successive Church documents including the recent document of the Bishop’s Conference of England and Wales, Cherishing Life, which states that in so far as a homosexual inclination "can lead to sexual activity which excludes openness to the generation of new human life and the essential sexual complementarity of man and woman, it is, in this particular and precise sense only, objectively disordered." (Cherishing Life par 111). That document goes on to say that a homosexual inclination "must never be considered sinful or evil in itself …..The Church teaches that sexual intercourse finds its proper place and meaning only in marriage and does not share the assumption common in some circles that every adult person needs to be sexually active. This teaching applies to all, whether married or unmarried, homosexual or heterosexual, engaged, single through choice, widowed or divorced. Everyone needs to develop the virtue of chastity so as to live well in his or her own situation." (Cherishing Life par 113).  
The Cardinal and his auxiliary Bishops would like to make it clear at this time, that they are openly expressing the teaching of the Church regarding homosexuality, following the statement made by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which says, "Departure from the Church’s teaching or silence about it, in an effort to provide pastoral care, is neither caring nor pastoral. Only what is true can ultimately be pastoral." (Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, par 15). It is in the light of this that the Diocese is seeking to provide pastoral care for homosexual Catholics.
It is also useful to note this paragraph from the second press release from the Diocese, issued after the review of the provision in December 2007:
Recently, there has been a review of the provision that has been provided and, as a result, Mgr. Seamus O’Boyle has been appointed Parish Priest. He will be responsible for ensuring that all pastoral provision is given with due catechesis and formation according to the mind of the Church.
The response of the Soho Masses Pastoral Council makes clear their disappointment with the press release of the Diocese, though it welcomes the practical outcomes of the discussions preceding it:
It is regrettable, however, that there was no direct conversation with the Cardinal himself during the process. As a result, his statement may appear to reflect more the concerns of the Church’s hierarchy rather than the lived experience of committed LGBT Catholics and their pastoral and spiritual needs. The continued use of narrowly defined, pseudo-clinical terminology to describe people of diverse sexualities, while closely reflecting Vatican usage, tends to pathologise people, focusing almost entirely on the Church’s teaching regarding sexual activity outside marriage. It also mistakenly reinforces the myth that this worshipping community is exclusive to a specific sexual orientation rather than being an inclusive expression of the Church, gathering all sorts and conditions of people.  
There is a risk that such language defines LGBT Catholics, their parents and families, as persons with problems to be solved, rather than recognising the contributions and gifts they bring to the building up of the Body of Christ, the rich catholicity of the People of God. It may focus more on the grief and anxieties of human existence than on the joy and hope of a Church trying to live with integrity in contemporary society. Being proudly lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered, and proudly Catholic is at the heart of this community of faith.
This response is significant in two respects. It makes clear, though in an implicit manner rather than by way of explicit denial, that those involved in the Soho Masses Pastoral Council do not accept the teaching outlined in the Diocesan press release - the last sentence of the response cannot be understood in any other way. There are different underlying principles being used by the two parties to the discussions, and by way of their explanations of the practical outcome, namely the provision of the Sunday afternoon Masses; and a certain amount of wishful thinking on the part of the Pastoral Council as to what the outcome might have been from a direct discussion with Cardinal Murphy O'Connor. The response also signals to those who would criticise the Diocesan authorities that the teaching of the Diocese on same-sex attraction has been made clear, and is in line with the teaching of the universal Church. Perhaps this section of the Diocesan press release could be given more publicity than it is.

What are the issues at stake in resolving the divided witness that exists as a result of the Masses at Warwick Street? My own view would be that a Diocesan/Episcopal response is only going to be part of the answer. Those priests who celebrate the Sunday afternoon Masses, and the parish priest, also have a responsibility to make the provision with the due catechesis and compliance with Church teaching that is expected by the Diocesan press releases. One thing that those concerned about the divided witness being offered cannot legitimately do, however, is move the discussion to the level of whether or not particular individuals are, or are not, in a state of grace.

The need to end the divided witness is somewhat urgent in the present political situation.

Gay Marriage: divided witness (1)

At the Ecumenical meeting during his visit to Cologne for World Youth Day in 2005, Pope Benedict XVI spoke in very encouraging terms about the extent of the progress towards unity among Christians. That does not mean that he was unealistic about the present state of ecumenical dialogue - his remarks about the significance of the common Sacrament of Baptism and fraternity in the relationships between the Christian denominations were balanced by the following remarks with regard to unity in witness in matters of ethics:
Another urgent priority in ecumenical dialogue arises from the great ethical questions of our time; in this area, contemporary man, who is searching, rightly expects a common response on the part of Christians, which, thanks be to God, in many cases has been forthcoming.  
There are so many common declarations by the German Bishops' Conference and the Evangelical Churches in Germany that we can be grateful for, but unfortunately, this does not always happen. Because of contradictory positions in this area our witness to the Gospel and the ethical guidance which we owe to the faithful and to society lose their impact and often appear too vague, with the result that we fail in our duty to provide the witness that is needed in our time.

Our divisions are contrary to the will of Jesus and they disappoint peoples' expectations. I think that we must work with new energy and dedication to bring a common witness into the context of these great ethical challenges of our time.
The UK has seen in the past week precisely this phenomenon of a divided witness from Christians on the question of gay marriage. On the one hand, Archbishop John Sentamu has clearly spoken out in an interview in the Daily Telegraph against the Coalition Government's intention to legislate to allow same sex couples to contract marriage on an absolutely identical basis to a man and a woman (do watch the video clip, as well as reading the short text on the Telegraph website):
“Marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman,” says Dr Sentamu. “I don’t think it is the role of the state to define what marriage is. It is set in tradition and history and you can’t just [change it] overnight, no matter how powerful you are.  
“We’ve seen dictators do it in different contexts and I don’t want to redefine very clear social structures that have been in existence for a long time and then overnight the state believes it could go in a particular way.

“It’s almost like somebody telling you that the Church, whose job is to worship God [will be] an arm of the Armed Forces. They must take arms and fight. You’re completely changing tradition.”
Whilst Catholics might have a different prudential judgement about the wisdom of supporting previous legislation with regard to civil partnerships, Archbishop Sentamu's argument that the state has not the authority to define, or change the definition of, what constitutes marriage would be exactly common ground in the present political debate. His reference to tradition and history has echoes of a paragraph from the address that Pope Benedict XVI had intended giving during a visit to La Sapienza University in Rome in January 2008:
At this point I would like to describe briefly how John Rawls, while denying that comprehensive religious doctrines have the character of “public” reason, nonetheless at least sees their “non-public” reason as one which cannot simply be dismissed by those who maintain a rigidly secularized rationality. 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.

During the same week, another Church of England Bishop has announced that he has "changed his mind" about gay marriage. According to a report in The Times on Friday:
The Bishop of Salisbury, the Right Rev Nicholas Holtham, has told The Times he believes that there is no distinction between heterosexual and homosexual unions...

Bishop Holtham told The Times: "We are living in a different society. If there's a gay couple in The Archers, if there's that form of public recognition in popular soaps, we are dealing with something which has got common currency. All of us have friends, families, relatives, neighbours who are, or who know somebody, in same-sex partnerships."

For a long time he believed that marriage could only be between heterosexual people. But he said: "I'm no longer convinced about that. I think same-sex couples that I know who have formed a partnership have in many respects a relationship which is similar to a marriage and which I now think of as marriage. And of course now you can't really say that a marriage is defined by the possibility of having children.

"Contraception created a barrier in that line of argument..."

He said that, in the Church, marriage was defined by two people promising to love each other faithfully for life in the context of a sexual relationship, and that they might have children."
One can clearly see the difference between Archbishop Sentamu's sense of a tradition of human cultures - and, if you watch the video clip on the Daily Telegraph site his explicit in referring to the range of human cultures - providing an authoritative indication of the nature of marriage and Bishop Holtham's acceptance of the most recent concensus as being normative for Christian life and practice. The significance of the Church of England's accepting the ethical legitimacy of contraception is notable in Bishop Holtham's position.

We can see a common witness with regard to the nature of marriage between Archbishop Sentamu and the Catholic Bishop's Conference; but the effectiveness of that commonality in witness is undermined by the intervention of the Bishop of  Salisbury.

[The full text of Archbishop Sentamu's wide ranging interview, given during a visit to Jamaica and of which the remarks about gay marriage form only a small part, can be found at the Archbishop's own website.]

Thursday 2 February 2012

Light of the Nations

When the Catechism the Catholic Church talks about the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation (nn.1423-1424), it explains several different names for the Sacrament, each of which brings out a different aspect of the Sacrament.

Today's feast day has what one might call the informal title of  "Candlemas", which draws attention to the symbolism of light that is part of what the feast day celebrates. It also draws attention to the Liturgical symbolism of the candle, as a sign of the light of Christ. The formal title in the Liturgy of the "Presentation of the Lord" points more transparently to the Scriptural texts that are at the root of the celebration of the feast day. The two titles are, of course, not contradictory to each other.

One of the striking things about the hymns for Morning Prayer/Lauds contained in the Latin texts of the Liturgy of the Hours is the way in which they make use of the symbolism of darkness and daylight. As a prayer particularly associated with the moment of dawn that is the also the moment of the Resurrection of the Lord, though not always prayed literally at that time, the hymns often make reference to the coming of daylight overcoming or displacing the darkness of night. The symbolism represents the overcoming of the darkness of sin by the light of Christ, and the experience is one of using the every day repeated natural phenemenon of dawn to remind the one who prays of the conquest of sin by the Resurrection of Christ. (Similarly, a character of the office of Night Prayer is to see the coming of night as a sign of the death and burial of Christ, with a looking forward to his Resurrection at dawn.) Not infrequently, the hymns also go on to call the one who prays to conversion of life, to live out the turning away from darkness towards light, interceding for protection from sin and temptation. As is the intention of the Liturgy of the Hours, the prayers sanctify that particular moment of the day by drawing attention to its meaning for the life of grace.

Today's feast day has its analogue every day in the prayer of Morning Prayer/Lauds.

It is, of course, also the World Day of Prayer for Consecrated Life (see here and here). I might not make it to Mass today, so if you can, do go for me!