Tuesday, 28 February 2023

Abortion and Afterwards

In 1988, a few weeks after I had had an abortion, I became destructive and emotionally unstable - moody, tearful, lethargic - I was unable to forget or come to terms with what had happened I had never experienced anything like it before and was both surprised and frightened by the depth and complexity of my feelings. I needed to talk, to hear other women's experiences, to know why they had chosen abortion and how they had coped. I discovered it was a taboo subject, so I turned to books. There was little there ...

I resolved to write a book of my own for my own therapy. And slowly, through words, I began to understand by feelings, and used my knowledge of therapy to guide me through my grief. Through writing I began to understand the enormity of my experience and what had happened to my relationship - I became disturbed at how we 'the aborters' were treated and viewed by others. I had come through my experience and integrated it into my life - I had survived the worst crisis of my life. But what of others?

.... All of the women, and men, I have spoken to  or whose letters I read, have shared, for the most part, a highly distressing and painful experience. They shared their experiences for two reasons:

- it was the first time anyone had asked them about their feelings and wanted to listen;

- in the hope that their experiences might help other women cope.

The above is a significant part of the Preface to a book entitled Abortion and afterwards, written by Vanessa Davies, and first published in 1991. The book was not written from a pro-life perspective; rather it was intended as a source of practical guidance for those facing a decision about abortion, with perhaps a particular target audience amongst those women who make a decision for an abortion. My own copy (second hand) has the stamp "Family Planning Association Information and Research Centre" on the inside front cover.

In the light of recent media coverage of Crisis Pregnancy Centres, Vanessa Davies' book has interesting aspects. Part Two, for example, is entitled "Afterwards: The Healing Process". The first chapter of this part addresses  "Feelings", recognising that "depression, guilt, anger, sadness, euphoria, relief, resentment, anxiety and grief" (p.121) are common themes in the experiences of women who have had an abortion. The second chapter in Part Two carries the title "Grief". The chapters describe, and suggest ways of coping with, these feelings.

It is interesting that a book written from a point of view that is essentially supportive of abortion recognises that a significant process of healing may be necessary after a woman has had an abortion. It gives part of a context for the work of pregnancy counselling services that do not refer for abortion.

Thursday, 23 February 2023

"God loves you as you are ..."

The problem with the observation is not that it is untrue, but that it is always only one part of the story. If God loves me as I am, he would also love me to be a bit better than I am. 

I remember some years ago now hearing a story that Monsignor Paul Watson used to tell. The captain of a large oil tanker sailing at night towards a light in the distance desperately tried to contact that smaller ship to tell it to change course, as his ship was too large to do so. When the smaller ship pointed out that it was in fact a light house, the captain of the oil tanker did not need to then be told what to do. He recognised straight away that it was in fact his ship that needed to change course. Monsignor Watson used the story as a parable of a "first conversion" that might occur as a person encounters the Gospel. It indicated a certain style that is needed in primary proclamation and the first steps in catechesis.

Likewise, if someone pitches up in the confessional for the Sacrament of Penance they have already recognised that they want to change something in their lives. It might be appropriate to be reassuring to that person of God's love for them, and perhaps to indicate the part that God's grace plays in the journey to holiness so that they are not discouraged by their own repeated efforts. But to try to do this by saying "God loves you as you are ..." is to rather miss the point, already recognised by the person in their very presence in coming to confession, that they wish to make at least some effort in favour of a conversion of life.

A cause for reflection, I think, as we start the season of the Church's liturgical year when many will approach the Sacrament of Penance....

Sunday, 12 February 2023

Drag Queen Story Hour: ideological colonisation of the family?

 Pope Francis is well known for advocating in favour of an approach of welcome and closeness to people who identify as LGBT+. He has done this on a number of occasions and in different contexts - in-flight interviews, response to LGBT+ persons when he meets them, correspondence with Fr James Martin. It is not possible to accuse him of advocating a hateful attitude towards an LGBT+ community.

However, in his most recent in-flight interview he distinguished this approach of welcome towards persons from "groups" and "lobby". And he has also spoken over the years of an "ideological colonisation of the family".

Story time certainly isn't over for Aida H Dee , the Drag Queen and founder of Drag Queen Story Hour UK says "hateful" protesters need to "get a job" instead of turning up at their events.

The Drag Story Hour UK consists of Drag Artists reading books to children across the country, in nurseries, libraries and museums. Aida’s aim is to ensure that children are given the opportunity to listen to stories that are diverse and inclusive of all people. They want children to have positive LGBTQ role models, something Aida says they didn’t have growing up.

Aida H Dee, the drag persona of Sab Samuel who founded Drag Queen Story Hour UK, says that most protesters don’t know what they’re protesting over. "They think they’re protesting against gender ideology and the concept of LGBTQ being out on children in some way," Sab said. "Kids have always been gay and trans and queen and non-binary, kids were always a part of the LGBTQ community, even before they knew it themselves."

The above is taken verbatim from an ITV News website report: "They should get a job" : Story time drag queen hits back at protestors". The accuracy of their reporting of the quotations attributed to Sab Samuel/Aida H Dee can be verified from the video clip included in the report.

The last sentence quoted above does express an ideology, what I think Pope Francis would recognise as an "ideological colonisation of the family". It is reasonable to expect that not all families will want their children to take part in an event such as this, which clearly has an intent with regard to LGBT+ ideology. 

As Sab Samuel/Aida H Dee suggests in the video clip, the idea of drag artists telling stories to children has been around for a long time - Christmas pantomime is in some ways its typical manifestation. But it does now seem to have gained an ideological intention that would have been absent from those earlier expressions, when a drag act would not have been identified as an expression of an LGBT+ identity.

Tuesday, 7 February 2023


An Italian text of the press conference during the flight back to Rome after Pope Francis' visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan can be found on the website of the Holy See: Press Conference of the Holy Father during the Return Flight. Archbishop Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Rt Rev Dr Greenshields, Moderator of the Church of Scotland (until later this year, when his successor will take over the office), also took part in the press conference.

It is Pope Francis' response to the fourth question in the press conference that has attracted most media attention. The English translation is my own:

Santo Padre, prima di partire per il suo viaggio apostolico Lei ha denunciato la criminalizzazione dell’omosessualità. E’ un delitto. In Sud Sudan e in Congo non è accettata dalle famiglie. Io stesso ho incontrato questa settimana a Kinshasa cinque omosessuali, ognuno dei quali era stato rifiutato e persino cacciato dalla propria famiglia. Questi omosessuali mi hanno spiegato che il loro rifiuto viene dall’educazione religiosa dei loro genitori. Alcuni di loro vengono addirittura portati da sacerdoti esorcisti perché le loro famiglie credono che siano posseduti da spiriti impuri. La mia domanda Santo Padre: cosa dice alle famiglie del Congo-Kinshasa e del Sud Sudan che ancora rifiutano i loro figli e che cosa dice ai preti, ai vescovi? Grazie.

[Holy Father, before setting of for your apostolic journey you denounced the criminalisation of homosexuality. It is a crime. In South Sudan and in Congo it is not accepted by families. I have met five homosexuals this week in Kinshasa, each of whom was rejected and even thrown out from their own families. These homosexuals explained to me that their rejection comes from the religious education of their parents. Some of them were even taken to priest exorcists because their family believed that they were possessed by impure spirits. Holy Father, my question: what do you say to the families of Congo-Kinshasa and of South Sudan who still reject their children, and what do you say to the priests, to the bishops? Thank you.]

Pope Francis' response is worth careful attention. Again, the English translation is my own.

Su questo problema ho parlato in occasione di due viaggi: prima, di ritorno dal Brasile: se una persona di tendenza omossessuale è credente e cerca Dio, chi sono io per giudicarlo? Questo ho detto in quel viaggio. Secondo, tornando dall’Irlanda – un viaggio un po’ problematico perché quel giorno era uscita la lettera di quel ragazzo –, lì ho detto chiaramente ai genitori: hanno diritto di rimanere in casa i figli che hanno questo orientamento, voi non potete cacciarli via di casa, hanno diritto su questo. E poi ultimamente ho detto qualcosa, non ricordo bene cosa ho detto, nell’intervista della Associated Press. La criminalizzazione dell’omosessualità è un problema da non lasciar passare. Il calcolo è, più o meno, che cinquanta Paesi in un modo o nell’altro portano a questa criminalizzazione. Alcuni dicono di più, diciamo almeno cinquanta. E alcuni di questi - credo saranno dieci - hanno anche la pena di morte, aperta o nascosta, ma la pena di morte. Questo non è giusto, le persone di tendenza omosessuale sono figli di Dio, Dio vuole loro bene, Dio li accompagna. È vero che alcuni sono in questo stato per diverse situazioni non volute, ma condannare una persona così è peccato, criminalizzare le persone di tendenza omosessuale è una ingiustizia. Non sto parlando dei gruppi, no, delle persone. Si può dire: “Ma fanno dei gruppi che fanno chiasso…”. Le persone. Le lobby sono un’altra cosa. Sto parlando delle persone. E credo che nel Catechismo della Chiesa Cattolica c’è la frase che “non vanno marginalizzati”. Credo che la cosa è chiara su questo.

[I have spoken about this problem on the occasions of two journeys: first, on returning from Brasil: if a person of homosexual tendency is a believer and seeks God, who ami I to judge them? This is what I said in that journey. Second, returning from Ireland - a journey a little problematical because that day  the letter of this young man was released -, there I clearly said to the parents: children who have this orientation have a right to remain at home, you cannot throw them out of their home, they have a right about this. And then the last time I said something, I do not recall well what I said, in the interview with Associated Press.  The criminalisation of homosexuality is a problem that we cannot ignore. The estimate is, more or less, that fifty countries in one way or another move towards this criminalisation. Some say more, we say at least fifty. And some of these - I believe they might be ten - have also the death penalty, open or hidden, but the death penalty. This is not just, persons with homosexual tendency are children of God, God wishes their good, God accompanies them. It is true that some are in this condition through different situations they did not wish, but to condemn a person like this is a sin, to criminalise the person with homosexual tendency is an injustice. I am not speaking of groups, no, of persons. One can say: "But I speak of groups that make a controversy ...". Persons. The lobby are another thing. I am speaking of persons. And I believe that in the Catechism of the Catholic Church is the phrase "do not send them to the margins". I believe that the matter is clear on this question.]

There is a certain precision in Pope Francis' language in answering this question; and it is important to recognise the context set by the question he was asked. It was not a context that called for a reiteration of Catholic teaching on same sex relations, but one that asked about how to treat persons. Note, too, the distinction of Pope Francis' remarks addressed to how we should treat persons, as not being remarks addressed towards pressure groups on the subject. And note the careful expression "persons with homosexual tendency".

When I place Pope Francis' words into the situations where I might encounter a person who identifies as LGBT+ - at work, for example, or within the extended family - I do end up thinking that he is advocating the normal pastoral common sense that applies in these situations.

See also my recent post Sin and Crime.

Sunday, 5 February 2023

Pope Francis' Message for the World Day of the Sick 2023

Saturday 11th February 2023, the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, will see the celebration of the 31st World Day of the Sick. Pope Francis' message for the day was published on 10th January, with the title: "Take care of him" - Compassion as a synodal exercise of healing. Pope Francis refers to the parable of the Good Samaritan, and the reflection on that parable in his Encyclical Letter Fratelli Tutti (nn.56 ff) to discuss the phenomenon of abandonment that may accompany illness. I have added the emphasis in the quotation below:

Brothers and sisters, we are rarely prepared for illness. Oftentimes, we fail even to admit that we are getting older. Our vulnerability frightens us and the pervasive culture of efficiency pushes us to sweep it under the carpet, leaving no room for our human frailty. In this way, when evil bursts onto the scene and wounds us, we are left stunned. Moreover, others might abandon us at such times. Or, in our own moments of weakness, we may feel that we should abandon others in order to avoid becoming a burden. This is how loneliness sets in, and we can become poisoned by a bitter sense of injustice, as if God himself had abandoned us. Indeed, we may find it hard to remain at peace with the Lord when our relationship with others and with ourselves is damaged. It is crucial, then, even in the midst of illness, that the whole Church measure herself against the Gospel example of the Good Samaritan, in order that she may become a true “field hospital”, for her mission is manifested in acts of care, particularly in the historical circumstances of our time. We are all fragile and vulnerable, and need that compassion which knows how to pause, approach, heal, and raise up. Thus, the plight of the sick is a call that cuts through indifference and slows the pace of those who go on their way as if they had no sisters and brothers.

The suggestion that the person who is sick is able to allow others to express their own dignity as persons by caring for their brothers and sisters who are more vulnerable is an important one. Certainly the person who cares recognises and promotes the dignity of the person who is sick and, in the terms of the parable, does not abandon them at the roadside. But Pope Francis is suggesting that there is a certain reciprocal action here on the part of the person who is sick, encouraging them not to abandon in their turn the dignity of the person who cares for them, and for whom they should never feel they are a burden.

In the particular circumstances of today, Pope Francis calls us to the corporal work of mercy that is the visiting of the sick.

Friday, 3 February 2023

Worldliness in the thought of Pope Francis

 I have just read the text of Pope Francis' address to the Bishops of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, during his current visit to the African continent. It reminds me that the Church in that country lives amidst an ongoing context of violence, a context that must give a very different sense to Catholic life than that which is experienced in a country such as our own. The full text can be found here: Meeting with Bishops.

It was this passage, however, that caught my attention, as it reflects a theme characteristic of Pope Francis:

Above all else, may we never open the door to the spirit of worldliness, for this makes us interpret ministry according to the criteria of our own advantage. It makes us become cold and detached in administering what is entrusted to us. It leads us to use our role to serve ourselves instead of serving others, and to neglect the one relationship that matters, that of humble and daily prayer. Let us remember that worldliness is the worst thing that can happen to the Church, the worst. I have always been moved by the end of Cardinal De Lubac’s book on the Church, the last three or four pages, where he puts it like this: spiritual worldliness is the worst thing that can happen, even worse than the time of Popes who were worldly and had concubines. It is the worst thing. And worldliness is always lurking. So let us be careful!

The reference to Cardinal de Lubac is to the last two or three pages of his book The Splendor of the Church; and de Lubac in his turn cites a passage from Dom Anscar  Vonier's The Spirit and the Bride. Pope Francis' most complete treatment of the theme is in Evangelii Gaudium nn.93-97, which includes a citation from the passage of de Lubac.

The passage from Anscar Vonier, from a book first published in the 1930's, reads as follows:

To become worldly is a peril that is never absent; when we say that worldliness is her snare we mean by worldliness a more subtle thing than is usually meant by this expression. We generally understand by worldliness the love of wealth and luxury amongst the Church's dignitaries; this is, of course, an evil, but it is not the principal evil. Worldliness of mind, if it were ever to overtake her, would be much more disastrous for the Church than worldliness of apparel. By worldliness of mind we understand the practical relinquishing of other-worldliness, so that moral and even spiritual standards should be based, not on what is the glory of the Lord, but on what is the profit of man: an entirely anthropocentric outlook would be exactly what we mean by worldliness. Even if men were filled with every spiritual perfection, but if such perfections were not referred to God (suppose this hypothesis to be possible), it would be unredeemed worldliness.

It may be worth appreciating that Dom Vonier goes on to suggest that it is the Holy Spirit who saves the Church from this evil by means of the seven gifts of the Spirit, and theme of the Holy Spirit in the Church is the context of his observations on worldliness.

As with his remarks about ideology (see Luigi Giussani's The Religious Sense), it is useful to recognise that Pope Francis' words on a type of spiritual worldliness are well founded, and should not be seen as directed against just one particular group in the Church of today. Anscar Vonier's The Spirit and the Bride is a natural read for someone familiar with the Charismatic Renewal; and The Religious Sense is foundational work for those familiar with Communion and Liberation. Pope Francis' familiarity with both these movements in the Church is useful in helping us to understand what he has to say about these two themes.