Monday 29 April 2013

Archbishop Romero: a cause unblocked

I have always had some difficulty understanding why the cause for the canonisation of Archbishop Romero has not progressed. I had sometimes wondered whether it was in part down to the fact that those Catholics who admire him might not have an interest in seeing through the processes required for canonisation. Talk of the cause being "blocked" in Rome would appear now have some foundation, though it has always struck me that any "blocking" of that type would be somewhat ill informed and/or short sighted. Far better, whatever the ecclesiastical politics in play, to let the facts speak for themselves and the cause to play out according to due process.

The underlying concern behind this "blocking" has been, so far as I can tell, that the beatification and canonisation of Archbishop Romero might give encouragement to trends in theological reflection and ecclesial practice normally ascribed to "liberation theology" - even though it does not take a detailed reading of, for example, Archbishop Romero's four pastoral letters to realise that he in no way espoused such thinking or practice. A perception that, among those supporting Archbishop Romero's cause, are some not known for their faithfulness in matters ecclesial might also have represented a barrier - though, again, one cannot read, for example, the pastoral letters without gaining a sense of an Archbishop profoundly faithful to the magisterium of the Church. [This report of the unblocking at - which ends describing Archbishop Romero as a "patron saint of liberation theology" - rather illustrates the problematic misapprehension that might have been behind the "blocking".]

The website of the Archbishop Romero Trust makes available much of the primary documentation with regard to  Archbishop Romero, and it is worth a visit. I would particularly commend the text of the Romero Lecture delivered in 2007 by Mgr Urioste, who was the Vicar General of the Diocese of San Salvador during Archbishop Romero's time as the pastor of the archdiocese. The title of the Lecture is "A Saint for the 21st Century".  The following passage is taken from page 7 of the text:
It is said of Archbishop Romero that he changed drastically with the murder of Father Rutilio Grande, and that his conversion happened less than one month after he became Archbishop. I don't believe that this is so. I believe that Monseñor Romero was someone who always, throughout his life, sought conversion. It was something similar to what Mark tells us about when Jesus cured a blind man. When they arrived at Bethsaida, they brought him a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. Jesus took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. Putting spittle on his eyes he laid his hands on him and asked: "Do you see anything?" Looking up the blind man replied: "I see people who look like trees, walking". Then Jesus laid hands on his eyes a second time and he saw clearly, his sight was restored and he could see everything distinctly" (Mark 8:22-25). Monseñor Romero also began to see gradually, as he discovered more about the Gospel and the painful situation of the people. All of these changed him. He never spoke of himself in terms of conversion; he spoke of evolution. For this reason he wrote: "readiness to change. He who fails to change will not gain the Kingdom." This is why he adds: "When we escape from reality, we escape from God."
I think this testimony to a "hermeneutic of continuity" in the life of Archbishop Romero, rather than to a "hermeneutic of rupture", by one of his closest collaborators, is very important for understanding Archbishop Romero's person and mission in the Church. I would hope that the "unblocking" of his cause will allow it to become more widely known.

Sunday 28 April 2013

Remain steadfast in the journey of faith, with firm hope in the Lord. This is the secret of our journey!

Pope Francis has preached a very lovely homily (and here at the Vatican website) this morning during the celebration of Mass and confirmation. The celebration - A Day for those being confirmed -  is one of the events being held to mark the Year of Faith, and it invited people (mostly, but not all, young people) being confirmed during the Year of Faith to make a pilgrimage to Rome. Yesterday, the pilgrimage took the form of catechetical/pilgrimage visits to the Vatican Basilica which focussed on the reciting of the Nicene Creed before the high altar and close by the tomb of St Peter above which the high altar is placed. Today, the confirmandi joined Pope Francis in St Peter's Square for Mass and the celebration of the sacrament for a number of those present.

For those who are having difficulty making out exactly what Pope Francis is about, I would suggest that this homily certainly indicates one thing. Pope Benedict, in his preaching, had an at times quite delightful or exquisite use of language - and we can see something of the same in today's homily:
Saint John’s vision reminds us that all of us are journeying towards the heavenly Jerusalem, the ultimate newness which awaits us and all reality, the happy day when we will see the Lord’s face – that marvelous face, the most beautiful face of the Lord Jesus - and be with him for ever, in his love.
And Pope John Paul II was able to speak in a way that issued a kind of clarion call to his listeners, to speak in a way with a profoundly evangelising way (in the sense of encouraging conversion to the Lord) - and we can see something of this, too, in this morning's homily:
Do not be discouraged! We have the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome these trials!
Which is to suggest that Pope Francis' homily, whilst clearly expressed in a way that shows Pope Francis' own charism, indicates a striking continuity of attitude with his two immediate predecessors.
I have added the italics to the following passage which occurs towards the end of the homily:
There are no difficulties, trials or misunderstandings to fear, provided we remain united to God as branches to the vine, provided we do not lose our friendship with him, provided we make ever more room for him in our lives. This is especially so whenever we feel poor, weak and sinful, because God grants strength to our weakness, riches to our poverty, conversion and forgiveness to our sinfulness.

Sunday 21 April 2013

Secularity, laicite and gay marriage

In 1997, I stood for Parliament as a candidate for the Pro-Life Alliance. Depending on my frame of mind, I look back on this as either being one of the more interesting experiences of my life or one of the more insane. Be that as it may, my reason for referring to it now is to recall a conversation I had at the time with one of the local Catholic priests. He mentioned to me that he was being asked by some of his parishioners as to why he was not expressing support for me during the election campaign. My reply was to say that, not only was I not expecting him to make any such declaration of support for me, but that it had not even occurred to me that he should do so. My reasons for this reply were two. Firstly, as a lay person with a certain amount of political acumen, I felt it was entirely within my own competence to judge the wisdom or otherwise of my involvement with what the Pro-Life Alliance were doing, and that I did not need any priestly permission or imprimatur for my decision to engage in the election. Secondly, like any political enterprise, what I was doing had great potential for going wrong, and that with a great deal of unpredictability. As an individual, and bearing in mind the freedom that went with that, I could quite easily wipe the proverbial off  and carry on; but not so the local Catholic parishes, if they had launched out in backing me. There, the proverbial would have stuck with a certain permanence.

I believe this to have been an example of what Pope Benedict XVI termed an "appropriate secularity"; it also represents the genuine meaning of the French term "laicite". It is for lay persons to mediate the mission of the Church into the political arena, where they engage as citizens; it is not for the priests, religious or bishops in the name of the Church to so engage. [That is not to say that they should remain silent on matters that have political implications. One can perhaps particularly expect bishops to teach with regard to whether particular legislative proposals are in accordance with Catholic teaching or not. But it is not for them to take on the leadership of the associated political campaigning.]

As far as the proposals to allow same sex couples to marry in the United Kingdom are concerned, the Catholic bishops have clearly spoken out against the proposed legislation. The website of the Bishop's Conference has a page dedicated to the issue; and some individual bishops made their own well publicised statements. And yet, according to the Tablet report, some 60% of Catholic MPs voted in favour of the  Marriage (Same Sex Couples) bill at its second reading. One might see "appropriate secularity" in play again here, as some might make the judgement that secular law should allow something that they do not consider morally just. But one can certainly see that the bishops cannot displace the responsibility of the relevant members of the lay faithful in the political working out of this issue.

The same question in France has a more complex character to it. The major opposition to the legislation proposed there to open marriage and adoption to same sex couples is a "collective", a kind of informal organisation, "Manif pour tous". Its nearest parallel in the UK is the Coalition for Marriage, and the parallel to "Manif pour tous" huge demonstrations the Coalition for Marriage's 600 000 plus signature petition. Whilst Catholic bishops in France have indicated their support for the demonstrations organised by "Manif pour tous", they have not directly taken part in them - see my previous posts here. They have, if you like, respected the lay nature of "Manif pour tous".

However, the video I saw first linked at Laodicea - French police give Catholic priest a kicking - does need to be seen in a proper context. First of all, watch the whole, not just the 4 minutes onwards. And secondly, recognise that these appear to be priests and laity associated with the Society of St Pius X. Exactly what the video shows - I certainly didn't see the arrested priest being kicked, and he did appear to place himself in the way of CRS officers arresting another individual, and the video certainly shows protestors violently attacking a static police barricade - is open to some question. I am unsure what the priests present - and their attendant cameras - were really trying to do. The context can be seen in this report at La Croix: La « Manif pour tous » espère mobiliser 50 000 personnes à Paris, which includes a reference to the steps being taken by the organisers of this afternoon's demonstration to respond to possible violence by groups attaching themselves to their demonstration. Another report - Qui sont les opposants radicaux au mariage pour tous - includes an integrist group l'Institut Civitas, associated with the Society of St Pius X, among the fringe groups involved in potentially violent protest.

An analysis of the French situation from a Catholic point of view, in both its current and historic contexts, can be found here: Le catholicisme intransigeant, une tentation permanente, par Mgr Dagens. I would suggest reading this alongside viewing the above mentioned video clip, which is not necessarily exactly what it appears....

UPDATE: A very careful look at the video clip does show a CRS officer kicking the arrested priest, somewhat gently I suspect by CRS standards, as he lies on the ground behind the police barricade ....  If you watch the earliest part of the video clip you can see the stewards of the "Manif pour Tous" demonstration between the demonstrators and the police line, and the request from the "Manif pour Tous" organiser for the demonstrators to disperse (it is now the end of their earlier demonstration), a request ignored by the priests and others present. The main events shown in the video clip develop after the "Manif pour Tous" stewards have left the scene.

There is also a longer video clip of the events here, the title of which attributes the events concerned explicitly to l'Institut Civitas.

Wednesday 17 April 2013

In politics, too, the other is a good.

Fr Julian Carron's letter to La Repubblica was written to address the political situation in Italy. But perhaps it has some relevance to our situation here in the United Kingdom, where the funeral today of Mrs Thatcher has been the cause of strong comment.
Now, thinking of the present, I say that unless we accept the elementary experience that the other is a good and not an obstacle to the fullness of our ‘I’, in politics as well as in human and social relations, it will be difficult to emerge from the situation in which we find ourselves.

Acknowledging the other is the true victory for each of us. The first to be called to travel this road, as happened in the past, are precisely the Catholic politicians, whatever their party. But unfortunately, they too often seem more defined by party alignments than by self-awareness of their ecclesial experience and the desire for the common good. Yet precisely their experience of being “members of each other” (Saint Paul) should enable them to view the other as part of the definition of self and thus of a good.

These days many have watched the Church and been surprised at how she was willing to change, the better to respond to the challenges of the present. In the first place, we have seen a Pope who, at the apex of his power, made an absolutely unheard of gesture of freedom, amazing everyone, so that another man with more energy could guide the Church. Then we witnessed the arrival of Pope Francis, who from the first moment has surprised us with gestures of disarming simplicity that are capable of reaching each person’s heart.

Sunday 14 April 2013

If ....

The rights expressed in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights are, according to its preamble, to be considered applicable to everyone and they are to be considered as "inalienable". This latter descriptor means that the rights enshrined in the Declaration are not to be taken away from anyone for any reason. Political opinion is explicitly referred to as one of the distinctions that do not allow for derogation from the rights expressed in the Declaration (cf Article 2).
Article 12

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.
It seems to me that, rather than being a question of freedom of expression (cf Article 19), the debate about the playing of a certain song by the BBC is a question relating to Article 12. That is, it is  question about attacking the honour and reputation of an individual. The question facing the BBC is not one of restricting or not restricting freedom of expression, but one of whether or not they wish to make themselves party to a breach of Article 12. Freedom of expression can be adequately achieved by observations of political difference from Mrs Thatcher.

However, both during her own political career and since, it has been socially/culturally acceptable to attack her reputation. Now, if, instead of being Mrs Thatcher, the person being subjected to such attack were ..[substitute here your own particular favoured figure] .. or if that person today, say, were to be well known in the LGBT community, then outrage might follow. Why not for Mrs Thatcher?

The right at stake is universal and inalienable - so Mrs T is entitled to it as much as anyone else.

Saturday 6 April 2013

The Templeton Prize 2013: Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Catholics have good reason to take an interest in the award of the Templeton Prize. The first recipient of the award in 1973 was Mother Teresa, and a number of other Catholics feature among the list of subsequent recipients. A striking number of scientists also feature among prize winners, of particular interest to Catholics being Frs Stanley Jaki and Michael Heller; the relationship between different branches of science and ethical or religious considerations is a recurring theme in the award of the prize.

The purpose of the prize is fully outlined here, and summarised as follows:
The Templeton Prize honors a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works. Established in 1972 by the late Sir John Templeton, the Prize aims, in his words, to identify "entrepreneurs of the spirit"—outstanding individuals who have devoted their talents to expanding our vision of human purpose and ultimate reality. The Prize celebrates no particular faith tradition or notion of God, but rather the quest for progress in humanity’s efforts to comprehend the many and diverse manifestations of the Divine.

The title of the prize is now "the Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries About Spiritual Realities". The prize tries to draw attention to the idea that progress in spiritual information and spiritual discoveries is just as feasible as progress in medicine, science and cosmology. In fact, spiritual progress may be more important than all of these other areas. Therefore, the name of the Prize was changed to inspire greater attention to research or discoveries of a spiritual nature. Spiritual realities refer to matters of the soul that are universal and apply in all cultures and to all peoples. Examples would include subjects like love, purpose, infinity, prayer, and thanksgiving. These realities are non-material, transcendent or metaphysical areas about which many people have intuitive perceptions. The inspiration behind the prize is the idea that all people have a spiritual dimension to their lives, and it seeks to celebrate progress in this dimension.

The 2013 recipient of the Templeton Prize is Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Quite rightly it appears to me, it is Archbishop Tutu's work with the Truth and Reconciliation commission in post-apartheid South Africa that is at the heart of the reasons for the award. This bears witness to spiritual values of truth, forgiveness and reconciliation and the way in which these values can overcome the temptation for revenge.

While I think there is undoubtedly grounds to justify the award to Archbishop Tutu, and the nature of the award is such that one might not always agree with everything advocated by recipients, Catholics might nevertheless welcome the award with a certain caution. A video on the Templeton Prize website shows Archbishop Tutu arguing that it is only through relationship that we become human, defining humanity only through this relationship with others. This is at best a partial perspective, at worst a seriously flawed conflation of a  potentiality that defines human nature with the actual act of that potentiality.

More significantly, Archbishop Tutu's advocacy of abortion and contraception - see report here from May 2012, and there are others - would put his outlook at odds with a Catholic point of view. Archbishop Tutu is also reported to be a supporter of gay marriage (here). From a Catholic point of view, it is possible to recognise the extent to which Archbishop Tutu has borne witness to spiritual values, and that in a manner that has an international impact justifying an award of the Templeton Prize; but there will also be a recognition that he holds a significantly flawed view of the wider spiritual values of the human person.

[Any verification or otherwise of the views attributed to Archbishop Tutu received as comments will be published - my own sources are secondary.]

Wednesday 3 April 2013

"Rebranded" sexism? Did the NUT quote Pope Paul VI?

One of the headlines of the teachers union conferences over the Easter period has been an expression of concern at the sexualisation of women and girls: Teachers attack "rebranded" sexism (and see the first sentence, or strapline, "Teachers are warning that young people are being damaged by an over-sexualised culture"). When a closer look is taken at the motions actually proposed for debate, the headline and strapline are not entirely as they appear. The following is part of the motion as proposed at the NUT conference. It is motion 48, and the full motion, along with the amendments put forward, can be found in the final agenda document at this page on the NUT website.
Conference believes that despite the formal, legal, equality that women have won, sexism and inequality are still a huge factor in shaping women’s lives today, and those of the students we teach.  
As educators, teachers are in an ideal position to challenge sexism and gender stereotyping, helping girls and young women to feel confident and secure both academically and socially.  
Conference is deeply concerned about  
1. Attacks on the rights women have fought for, including maternity leave, and the right to make their own choice about abortion; and  
2. The rise of what has become commonly known as ‘raunch culture’ where the old sexism of the past has been rebranded by big business. In particular, the gains of the last 40 years in terms of women’s sexual liberation are being turned back on women and girls in commodified form. Playboy bunnies adorn children’s pencil cases, pole dancing is sold as an ‘empowering’ form of exercise, and the ‘beauty pageants’ of old have become a staple of student union life. The objectification of women’s bodies is playing an ever more horrifying role in society and is having a disastrous effect upon the self-image of girls and young women.
One can readily see an agenda in favour of abortion, the redefining of gender in purely sociological terms and in affirmation of "sexual liberation". Some of the proposed amendments made reference to the role of bisexual women.

The agenda of sexual liberation for women does not directly indicate a commodification of women themselves as sexual objects; seen in its wider context, that liberation has aspects such as justice in the workplace that are not of themselves sexual in nature. However, insofar as that liberation does have aspects that are immediately sexual in nature - and one cannot but see in the reference to "sexual liberation" in the NUT motion a reference to this sexual aspect - the freedom to engage in sexual activity does nevertheless indicate something about the nature of sexual activity on the part of women. They have a freedom to engage in sexual activity, without immediately apparent consequence, and that freedom is seen as the essence of the sexual dimension of their liberation.

There is a reflection of this in the way in which our culture sees men as agents in a freedom of sexual activity, be that with respect to women or with respect to other men.

But for both men and women, though in a much more prominent way for women, this availability to sexual activity that is expressed in our culture of its nature prompts an objectification of the person on the part of others with regard to sexual activity.

The question that has not been explicitly asked in the course of coverage of the teachers union debates is: what is the purpose of sexual activity? What are its ethically just motivations and what is the end towards which it is oriented?

If it is seen as pleasure pure and simple, then we all become sex objects for the other, with women preferentially the subjects of this objectification. There is an unrecognised contradiction in the NUT motion in that it appears to affirm the "sexual liberation" of women whilst condemning the bodily manifestation of the sexual objectification of persons that follows from it.

What does the Catholic mind set bring to this debate? In reverse temporal order, one might think of the purification of eros to become agape of which Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote in Deus Caritas Est.  Love as the pleasure of sexual activity is to be absorbed into the higher love of gift of oneself to and for the other. On a more philosophical plane, one might think of the phenomenological articulation of the idea of integration of the bodily dimensions to the spiritual dimensions of the person indicated in The Acting Person of the future Pope John Paul II. And one might also return to Pope Paul VI who, in Humanae Vitae, indicated the principle of the unity between the ordering towards children and the motivation of affective love in the sexual act - and at the same time gave a prophetic warning of the consequences if that were not observed:
Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.
Or, as the NUT motion put it, in what might almost be a paraphrase of the words of Paul VI:
The objectification of women’s bodies is playing an ever more horrifying role in society and is having a disastrous effect upon the self-image of girls and young women.

Monday 1 April 2013

Proclaiming the Resurrection; Appealing for Peace

The repeated message of the homilies during my participation in the celebration of the Triduum and Easter Sunday was that, if the Mysteries being celebrated meant anything to us, we would go out of that Church onto the streets outside and proclaim that Christ is risen. These homilies represented a clear call to each of us to undertake an act of "primary proclamation" by speaking explicitly of Christ to others.

The Easter flowers in my front window are a somewhat feeble effort at this. I should point out that double decked buses pass in the street outside roughly every five minutes and my flowers will be on ready view to any on the top deck.

On Sunday morning, in a St Peter's Square transformed into an Easter Garden by the flowers donated from the Netherlands, the Successor of Peter took part in the "Resurexit" rite, re-enacting the first appearance of the risen Lord to the first St Peter. It occurs between about 12 minutes and 15 minutes of the video on the Vatican Youtube Channel: Easter Mass. It is particularly moving as the Deacon sings that "He has truly risen and has appeared to Simon".

Pope Francis chose not to preach during Mass. Instead he opened his Urbi et Orbi address - at the beginning of which he explicitly greeted both the people of the city of Rome and the whole world - with an insistent proclamation of the Resurrection of Christ. Watch the first four or five minutes here: Urbi et Orbi.
What a joy it is for me to announce this message: Christ is risen! I would like it to go out to every house and every family, especially where the suffering is greatest, in hospitals, in prisons …

Most of all, I would like it to enter every heart, for it is there that God wants to sow this Good News: Jesus is risen, there is hope for you, you are no longer in the power of sin, of evil! Love has triumphed, mercy has been victorious!

We too, like the women who were Jesus’ disciples, who went to the tomb and found it empty, may wonder what this event means (cf. Lk 24:4). What does it mean that Jesus is risen? It means that the love of God is stronger than evil and death itself; it means that the love of God can transform our lives and let those desert places in our hearts bloom.
It is the reference to hell in the next paragraphs that particularly fascinates me, echoing for me at least the experience of Adrienne von Speyr and the writing of Hans Urs von Balthasar:
This same love for which the Son of God became man and followed the way of humility and self-giving to the very end, down to hell - to the abyss of separation from God - this same merciful love has flooded with light the dead body of Jesus and transfigured it, has made it pass into eternal life. Jesus did not return to his former life, to earthly life, but entered into the glorious life of God and he entered there with our humanity, opening us to a future of hope.

This is what Easter is: it is the exodus, the passage of human beings from slavery to sin and evil to the freedom of love and goodness. Because God is life, life alone, and his glory is the living man (cf. Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, 4,20,5-7).
Some have wanted to say that Pope Francis has simplified the celebration of the Papal liturgy, in contrast to his predecessor, who instead wanted to aggrandise it. Such a perception seems to me unfair to both Francis and Benedict XVI. Pope Francis Easter Sunday Mass is full of splendour - the flowers, the music, the "Resurrexit" rite. Pope Francis has retained the "Benedictine arrangement" of candles and crucifix on the altar, whose prime intention is to express the orientation of the celebration towards the Father through the Son, though with the adjustment of moving the candles more to the side. My own assessment is that, more than anything else, Pope Francis has been anxious to remove from the Papal liturgy those moments that might in some way manifest a privileging of some persons over others (though, of course, a priest or deacon has a certain privilege that derives from their office rather than from their particular person). This would explain his not distributing Holy Communion himself, his opening of his daily Mass to (not-quite) all comers rather than to invitees, his wish to wash the feet of young detainees, a certain simplicity in the choice of vestments.

For the full report of Pope Francis' Urbi et Orbi address see here: Urbi et Orbi Message, Easter 2013. The appeal for peace in the world, that was more widely reported in the main stream media than the proclamation of the Resurrection, follows on from the passages quoted above.