Tuesday 17 April 2018

National Education Union and abortion rights: not in my name

During the Easter holidays, the ATL Section of the National Education Union meeting in their annual conference carried the motion that I reproduce below:
THAT Conference believes that access to safe, free, legal abortion is crucial to women’s and girls’ educational, economic, and social equality. Barriers to abortion services are barriers to women’s and girls’ rights. Fifty years on from the 1967 Abortion Act, women and girls still face unacceptable delays, threats of violence and intimidation, inaccurate and misleading information and unequal access to abortion services.
Conference therefore instructs the Executive Committee to put forward to the Joint Executive Council that the Joint Executive Council:
(i) adopt a pro-choice position on abortion rights that is inclusive of all people who need to access abortion services (trans men; non-binary and gender non-conforming people) in all regions of the UK
(ii) lobby Government to ensure that reproductive rights and women’s health are taught as an essential element of the RSE and PSHE curriculum to ALL secondary and post-16 students regardless of their gender, delivered by trained teachers and supported by local sexual health services
(iii) signpost age-appropriate and good-quality teaching resources and training opportunities to members
(iv) oppose attempts by anti-choice groups to present inaccurate and misleading information in schools and colleges
(v) support the work of the campaigning group Abortion Rights.

I will  be enquiring of the leadership of the trade union how this motion came to be considered suitable business. I suspect that in the past it would have been ruled as unsuitable business for conference on two grounds: (1) adopting a position for or against legalised abortion lies outside the objects of the union; and (2) the allegations of threats of violence and intimidation, and of the presentation of inaccurate and misleading information by pro-life groups are in every likelihood factually incorrect, and can be seen as such without the need to probe at all deeply. In the present day climate, though, I wonder whether the relevant rules/procedures committee even gave it a second thought (happy to be corrected on that...). Oddly enough, a motion of like intent put to the NUT Section conference does not appear to have made it to their final conference agenda (compare the final agenda to the conference motions on this page).

I haven't attended annual conference for a number of years now, so was not present to see how much debate this motion generated.

Somewhat mischievously, I am as I write pondering the possible outcome if Marie Stopes and BPAS had to provide their abortion services without receiving funding to do so ... ie make provision for genuinely free abortions, as advocated by the first line of the above motion.

It is sub-sections (ii) and (iv) that are particularly sinister, and, as worded, somewhat dishonest. In effect, they argue that only supporters of legalised abortion (decode "trained teachers and local sexual health services") should be allowed to teach on the subject of abortion in schools, and that those who are pro-life (decode "anti-choice") should be barred from speaking to pupils in schools. This is a somewhat totalitarian position for a supposed member led, democratic trade union to have adopted.

I wonder, too, at the possible implications of identifying barriers to abortion as barriers specifically to girls rights ... A February 2018 Joint Serious Case Review (read around page 90 ff, and note reference to earlier serious case reviews that raise the same question) with regard to child sexual exploitation clearly raises issues around the climate of confidentiality when young girls seek sexual health services, including the morning after pill and abortion, and are not recognised as possibly being subject to sexual exploitation. The readiness of access to such services appears, albeit inadvertently, to mask possible exploitation.

If you are also a member of the National Education Union, particularly the ATL Section, you might like to join me in letting our union leadership know that they do not adopt this policy in our name.

Tuesday 10 April 2018

Gaudete et Exsultate: Spiritual combat, Vigilance and Discernment

I have just read Chapter Five of Pope Francis' Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate which begins with these words.
The Christian life is a constant battle. We need strength and courage to withstand the temptations of the devil and to proclaim the Gospel. This battle is sweet, for it allows us to rejoice each time the Lord triumphs in our lives.
 The chapter ends as follows:
Discernment, then, is not a solipsistic self-analysis or a form of egotistical introspection, but an authentic process of leaving ourselves behind in order to approach the mystery of God, who helps us to carry out the mission to which he has called us, for the good of our brothers and sisters.
The whole chapter is worth reading - and not only because of its realist teaching on the existence and activity of the Devil.
 I would like these reflections to be crowned by Mary, because she lived the Beatitudes of Jesus as none other. She is that woman who rejoiced in the presence of God, who treasured everything in her heart, and who let herself be pierced by the sword. Mary is the saint among the saints, blessed above all others. She teaches us the way of holiness and she walks ever at our side. She does not let us remain fallen and at times she takes us into her arms without judging us. Our converse with her consoles, frees and sanctifies us. Mary our Mother does not need a flood of words. She does not need us to tell her what is happening in our lives. All we need do is whisper, time and time again: “Hail Mary…”

Sunday 8 April 2018

All the Cathedrals (8): Worcester Cathedral

Zero and I visited Worcester at the February half term, so we were there for Ash Wednesday. We weren't able to make Mass on the day, and so frequented the Cathedral for their evening service, with imposition of ashes. The crosses on our foreheads were sufficiently dramatic to be noticed as we walked out for our supper afterwards!

Worcester Cathedral shares a narrative common to a number of English cathedrals: first foundation in Anglo-Saxon times; a Benedictine monastic phase brought to an end by the Henry VIII's dissolution of the monastery and establishing of a Cathedral and chapter; significant damage as a result of the attention of the Parliamentary side during the Civil War (though the extent of this is hardly apparent today, with the only visible defacing in the Hall); and subsequent measures of restoration. The names of St Oswald and St Wulfstan are associated with the building of the Cathedral, the latter continuing to hold the see after the Norman conquest. A summary history of the building can be found here.

The restored Norman crypt is very striking, in part because of its contrast to the construction of the later Cathedral above it.

King John, of Magna Carta fame, had extensive connections with Worcester and his tomb lies in the choir of the Cathedral, before the high altar. (The tomb would appear to have escaped the attention of the Parliamentarians at the time of the Civil War.)

There is also a chantry chapel to Prince Arthur, oldest brother of the future Henry VIII and first wife of Catherine of Aragon, who died before he could succeed to the throne.

A striking feature for an Anglican Cathedral is the window dedicated to Sir Edward Elgar. Though Elgar was a Catholic, he had a strong musical link to Worcester Cathedral and to the Three Choirs Festival. The window represents Elgar's Dream of Gerontius, a strikingly Catholic theme. The Cathedral is just a stone's throw from the modern shop that now occupies the site of the Elgar's family music shop.

Much of the stained glass in the Cathedral dates from the Victorian restoration, with the West window depicting the story of the creation while the East window tells the story of Jesus life, death and resurrection. A repair of the West window was still underway at the time of our visit, with scaffolding in place on the exterior hiding the otherwise distinctive view from the river. Many of the fittings that we see today date from this Victorian restoration. The reredos of the high altar by Sir George Gilbert Scott, for example, represents Christ enthroned with the four Evangelists. The effect is to render almost imperceptible to the contemporary visitor the damage done during the Civil War - it is only in the School Hall that a defaced image remains visible. The Victorian restoration also replaced the majority of the external stone work, which disguises the earlier history of the Church as the visitor approaches from the outside.

A much more recent restoration programme has taken action to preserve both the appearance and structure of the Cathedral.
There is a cloister with memorials in the glass windows. Access to the river can be gained by passing through the grounds and down a walk way. Set in the wall are stones that mark the water levels reached by floods of the Severn.
As a city, Worcester suffers from a bit of a split personality. The High Street is occupied with many modern buildings that have replaced some of the older buildings, such as the music shop owned by Edward Elgar's parents. Friar Street and New Street, however, have preserved a number of their older buildings, including the public house from which Charles I is said to have made his escape after the second Battle of Worcester. A number of the businesses in these streets occupy premises that retain features of historic interest.

Thursday 5 April 2018

A forgotten chapter in the life of Pope Paul VI

h/t to Auntie Joanna forthis: An overlooked chapter in the life of Blessed Paul VI.

I do think Pope Paul VI is very much underestimated, and I look forward to new studies of him being published to accompany his canonisation.

Monday 2 April 2018

Pope Francis' reflection on the "Our Father"

At his General Audience on 14th March, Pope Francis continued his series of meditations on the Liturgy of the Eucharist, reaching the Communion Rite and the prayer of the Our Father. My italics added to the paragraph that particularly caught my attention (though the whole is, of course, worth reading):
What better prayer than the one taught by Jesus could prepare us for sacramental Communion with him? Apart from in the Mass, the “Our Father” is prayed in the morning and at night, in the Praises [ie Lauds] and in Vespers; in this way, the filial attitude toward God and that of fraternity with our neighbour help give Christian form to our days.