Friday, 29 August 2014

Confessors for the Faith

Fr Tim drew attention to this article by Simon Caldwell a day or so ago.

Two weeks ago , Zero and I visited Vienna. On the Sunday morning, we joined the Vienna English Speaking Catholic Community - a kind of "personal parish" meeting the needs of English speaking Catholics in the city - for Mass. As it happened, St Francis of Assisi Church was just 5 minutes walk from the hotel we were staying in. It was quite an impressive Church building, though Mexikoplatz in which it was located was a bit untidy in appearance. The apse end of the Church overlooks the Danube river in quite an imposing kind of view. The square is named as it is because Mexico was, according to a stone in the square, the only country to speak out against Adolf Hitler's annexation of Austria. Five minutes in the other direction from our hotel was the Prater - but that was for later in the day, with the Reisenrad and Praeterturm as highlights.

After Mass we were asked to greet a Syrian family who had recently begun to attend Mass with the community. It is one thing to have followed the stories of the persecution of Christians in Syria and Iraq, but it is quite another to meet a family that have themselves experienced that persecution. Fortunately, Zero kept herself rather more together than I did .... Though this experience was totally unexpected, it was certainly an irreplaceable part of our visit to Vienna.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Signs of a broken politics?

I did not watch the recent televised debate between Mr Salmond and Mr Darling, in respect of the forthcoming referendum on independence for Scotland. "I'm weary listening to two grown men fighting" was a text comment I received part way through - but it was on Sky News as well, so there was apparently no escape! Listening to radio coverage during the following day, I gained the impression that commenters felt obliged to take it all seriously when, deep down, they knew it was such a ridiculous exhibition that it was embarrassing. Two Scots people interviewed on The World at One first used the word "performance" and, subsequently, "pantomime" to describe the debate; evaluation of the debate itself was almost exclusively in terms of who had "performed" best.

The behaviour of Mr Salmond and Mr Darling appears to me to have been appalling - and that is the comment that no-one seems to have wanted to make during yesterday's coverage. That it came from two politicians of national standing, without censure from fellow politicians, is surely a sign of a broken politics.

In the international sphere, we have also recently seen signs of a broken politics on the part of the United Kingdom. Navi Pillay, as she leaves her role as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, criticised the UN Security Council (my italics added):
"Greater responsiveness by this council would have saved hundreds of thousands of lives," she told a meeting of the 15-member body.
She said that national interest had repeatedly taken precedence over human suffering and breaches of world peace.
And yet, in a situation where the Holy See's representative at the United Nations communicates the appeals of local Catholic bishops for international action to stop Islamic State violence against minorities and for an international presence to guarantee the right of Christians to return to their homes in Iraq rather than accepting that they will remain in exile, David Cameron's justification of the very limited British engagement on their behalf is articulated in terms of UK "national interest" accompanied by an insistence that there will be no "boots on the ground".

Current debates with regard to British membership of the European Union and with regard to immigration are couched in similar terms of "national interest".

And yet there is a different possibility in the political sphere, and it is a possibility that has been articulated to Parliamentarians in the United Kingdom. On 22nd June 2004, Chiara Lubich spoke to the title "Liberty, equality ... whatever happened to fraternity?" , describing the work of the Movement for Unity in Politics, a work of the Focolare movement.

But as we know well, if emphasis falls solely on liberty, it can easily become the privilege of the strongest. And as history confirms, emphasis solely on equality can result in mass collectivism. In reality, many peoples still do not benefit from the true meaning of liberty and equality….
How can these be acquired and brought to fruition? How can the history of our countries and of all humankind resume the journey toward its true destiny? We believe that the key lies in universal fraternity, in giving this its proper place among fundamental political categories.
Only if taken together can these three principles give rise to a political model capable of meeting the challenges of today’s world.

It is worth reading the whole, but towards the end of her talk, Chiara described the type of politics the movement attempts to achieve (my italics added):

The politicians I am speaking of choose to seek office as an act of love. It is a response to a genuine vocation, to a personal calling. Those who are believers discern the voice of God calling them through circumstances, while those with no religious affiliation respond to a human call, to a social need, to a city’s problems, to the sufferings of their people which speak to their conscience. In both cases, it is love that motivates them to act. And both find their home in the Movement for Unity in Politics.
The politicians for unity, having come to understand that politics at its root is love, realize that others too—even those who at times can be called their political opponents —may have also chosen politics as a vocation to love. They realize that every political group, every political choice can be a response to a social need and therefore is necessary in building up the common good. They are as interested in the others’ goals, including their political causes, as they are in their own, and thus criticism becomes constructive. They seek to live out the apparent contradiction of loving the other’s party as their own because they realize that the nation’s well-being requires everyone’s cooperation.
This, in outline, is the ideal of the Movement for Unity in Politics. And in my opinion it is a kind of politics worth living. It forms politicians capable of recognizing and serving the vision for their community, their town and nation, indeed for all humanity, because fraternity is God’s vision for the whole human family. This is the kind of genuine, authoritative politics that every country needs. In fact, with power comes strength but only love gives authority.

 We need a language in politics that looks out for the interest of the other, and not just our own interest. Such a language would completely re-cast a number of our contemporary political debates.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Abortion in Ireland; Ouch on the BBC; Richard Dawkin's "apology"

I have not followed closely the reporting of  the recent case in Ireland where a woman requesting an abortion under the newly passed legislation gave birth by a Caesarean Section. Even had I done so, I would not be in a position to fully understand the circumstances involved - media reporting rarely enables that, particularly when the political/ideological stances of the reporting organisations and individuals are also in play.

However, if the reporting indicated below is correct, it would appear that the panel which reviewed the woman's case have taken their responsibilities under the legislation seriously. Again, if reporting is correct, the fact that this has occurred in one of the earliest instances of the application of the new legislation perhaps lays down a marker for how panels will act in future cases. This does represent a contrast to the implementation of abortion legislation in the UK, where, de facto, abortion on request exists despite the legal requirement that two doctors make an essentially clinical judgement of grounds for an abortion before signing the appropriate forms.

Reports from the BBC here and here (though notice the way in which the case appears to be being used in the media in this last report).

Post from efpastoremeritus Woman lawfully was refused an abortion under Ireland’s new laws (though contrast it with the reporting by the Guardian, which assumes a right to abortion on request, something not allowed under UK law let alone the newly passed law in Ireland, and which contains some contradiction in terms of the reasons for the woman involved seeking an abortion: here and here).


Richard Dawkins seems to have overstepped the mark, with his tweet to the effect that it would be immoral not to abort a baby known to have Down's Syndrome. Again, I haven't followed this very closely.

But, by accident, I was led to the a blog on the BBC News website called Ouch.
Ouch explores the disability world in blog posts and a monthly internet radio talk show (earlier shows can be found here). 
It is brought to you by an award-winning team of disabled journalists – Emma Tracey and Damon Rose – with help from guest contributors who all have personal connections to disability.
Ouch goes behind the headlines of disability news, and also lifts the lid on the little details about being disabled that are not widely talked about. You can add your comments on each story - click here for the house rules on taking part.
 A post on the blog which includes a response to Richard Dawkin's remarks is here : Richard Dawkins: 'Immoral' not to abort Down's foetuses. There is an earlier post by the mother of a Down's Syndrome child, which now has an added relevance: 'My son has Down's syndrome and I wouldn't swap a thing about him'.


Richard Dawkin's also seems to have exemplified how not to apologise. According to a short snippet in today's Times:
On his website, [Richard Dawkins] clarified his stance under the headline "Abortion & Down' Syndrome: Apology for Letting Slip the Dogs of Twitterwar", in which the scientist said his "phraseology may have been tactlessly vulnerable to misunderstanding" and that his comments were intended only for a specific audience [ie a sub-set of his twitter followers - see Dawkins website itself].
But in the extended presentation of his original Twitter comment offered in the website post, Dawkins appears to me to simply repeat the position that originally gave offense - the suggestion that it would be immoral to give birth to a child known during pregnancy to have Down's Syndrome.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Pope Francis' Press Conference (2)

Please see this post for my earlier comments about Pope Francis' press conference.

A third point has occurred to me as being worthy of significant comment. It is Pope Francis' explanation of his reasons for wishing to visit Albania. The Pope gave two reasons, two reasons which have a certain contrast to them.

The first is that Albania has been able to establish a government reflecting an inter-religious harmony: Albania represents an example to others of the possibilities of inter-religious dialogue:
First, because they have been able to form a government  – just think of the Balkans, they have been able to form a government of national unity with Muslims, Orthodox and Catholics, with an interreligious council that helps a lot and is balanced.  This is good, and harmonious.  The presence of the Pope wishes to say to all the peoples (of the world) that it’s possible to work together. I felt it as a real help to that noble people.
The second is Albania's history of being a state in which atheism, at a practical level, was formerly part of the country's constitutional arrangement.
... if we think about the history of Albania, in terms of religion it was the only country in the communist world to have in its constitution practical atheism. So if you went to mass it was against the constitution. And then, one of the ministers told me that 1820 churches were destroyed, both Orthodox and Catholic, at that time. Then other churches were transformed into theatres, cinemas, dance halls. So I just felt that I had to go. 
The presence of the Pope also wishes to give a testimony in favour of the part that should be played by religion in public life.

Interesting, eh? 

Pope Francis press conference on the way back from Korea

A full transcript of the "Q and A" between Pope Francis and journalists during the flight back to Rome from his recent visit to Korea has been published. A copy can be found at Catholic Voices, along with some links to news reports following it: Pope Francis press conference on papal plane from Seoul: full transcript.

Of course, traditionalist comment has totally, and it seems to me quite deliberately, mis-represented the following remark made by Pope Francis, in answer to a question about how he manages his extraordinary popularity. I quote Pope Francis full answer, with my emphasis added:
 I don’t know how to respond. I live it thanking the Lord that his people are happy.  Truly, I do this. And I wish the People of God the best .  I live it as generosity on the part of the people.  Interiorly,  I try to think of my sins, my mistakes, so as not to think that I am somebody.  Because I know this will last a short time, two or three years, and then to the house of the Father. And then it’s not wise to believe in this. I live it as  the presence of the Lord in his people who use the bishop, the pastor of the people, to show many things.  I live it a little more naturally than before, at the beginning I was a little frightened.  But I do these thing, it comes into my mind that I must not make a mistake so as not to do wrong to the people in these things. A little that way.
 AFP's reporting of these words suggests that Pope Francis spoke "light-heartedly" - but even if he did not, it is the most crass of interpretations to read into these words the sin of presumption.

Two other points in the transcript caught my attention. The first is in relation to the beatification of Archbishop Oscar Romero, which is something I would like to see occur "subito". I have only a limited understanding of why the cause was ever blocked "for reasons of prudence" - many of Archbishop Romero's advocates can appear to be problematical (to use a diplomatic word), but his own teaching and practice have always appeared to me impeccable. Indeed, he exemplifies for me how a pastor should apply the teaching of the universal Church in the particular circumstances of his own time and place. The interesting point in Pope Francis' remarks refers to how we understand the nature of martyrdom - way back in 1985, I spoke and wrote of Archbishop Romero and Fr Jerzy Popieluszko as "martyrs for the truth" about the human person and about the situations in which they had to live out that truth. Again, I quote the full answer, with my emphasis added:
What I would like is to have clarified when there is martyrdom in ‘odium fidei’ (out of hate for the faith),  whether it is for confessing the credo or  for performing the works that Jesus commands us to do  for our neighbor. This is a work of theologians that is being studied.  Because behind him (Romero), there is Rutillio Grande and there are others.  There are other that were also killed but are not at the same height as Romero. This has to be distinguished theologically. For me, Romero is a man of God.   He was a man of God but there has to be the process, and the Lord will have to give his sign (of approval). But if He wishes, He will do so!   The postulators must move now because there are no impediments.

The other point that caught my attention was the suggestion that the retirement of a Pope was now perhaps a possibility that was "normal" or "institutional", rather than "exceptional", and that this was a possibility created by Pope Benedict's resignation:
... as I said before, some theologian may say this is not right, but I think this way.  The centuries will tell us if this so or not. Let’s see.
But you could say to me, if you at some time felt you could not go forward, I would do the same!  I would do the same.  I would pray, but I would do the same. He (Benedict) opened a door that is institutional, not exceptional.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

A "Special Adviser" and "British Values".

There has been some concern expressed at the moves by the Department for Education with regard to the teaching of "British values" in schools (including nurseries) in the United Kingdom. News reports and comment can be found here: DfE consultation,  BBC news, and more recently, here and here; Christian Institute and, perhaps more considered, Catholic Voices.

Alan Craig brings to light another dimension to this question: Rising Gay Christian: Bright, Able and Wrong. Read Alan's post before continuing.

Two thoughts immediately come to mind. What are the implications of Luke Tryl's appointment for the "British values" agenda, particularly for its implementation in schools with a religious designation? And, if instead of Luke Tryl, Nicky Morgan had chosen an orthodox Christian believer as a special adviser, would there have been an uproar? The particular concern about Luke Tryl's appointment is that Nicky Morgan might well receive and act on advice that claims to be consistent with Christian belief when, as Alan points out, it is not.

As the Catholic Voices comment points out:
It is questionable to what extent the state can and should be the arbiter of British values. Values are the wellspring of a society rich in traditions, including mature religious belief, which is at the forefront of the fight against extremism. Faith schools which reflect that mature religion are not the problem, and should be a major part of the solution.
Catholic Voices end their comment with the observation:
The answer to extremism and sectarianism is not secularism, which is a state-imposed attempt to flatten society and shape it in the image of a minority belief. The national educational vision needs to challenge and sift faith traditions; intolerance and violence are distortions and perversions of true religion. This endeavour eschews “top down” solutions to defining the correct values. The challenge requires hard work, listening, and crucially the expertise held within religious traditions. Our values are important, but values do not proceed from the state – they are supported by the state as manifestations of a pluralistic society. Where extremism is an issue, the criticism of a religion lived in a pluralist society is the best, and only coherent, response. 
What strikes me as providing a basis for a common set of values, or principles, for successful living in a religiously diverse society is the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is this Declaration that can provide the basis for the criticism of religion suggested by the Catholic Voices comment - and its terms provide an effective response to extremism (which, in the media coverage, largely remains an undefined term) without representing an imposition by the state of its own values. I cannot see any reason why the UN Declaration should not be part of the expected school curriculum.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Appreciating Paul VI: part 6

Some things are the same now as they were at the time of the Second Vatican Council. In this case, I think of the reasons being advanced in favour of modifying the Church's discipline with regard to priestly celibacy. John O'Malley (What happened at Vatican II) gives less coverage to the content of the discussion at the time of the Council than does Ralph Wiltgen (The Rhine flows into the Tiber pp.96-99, in the context of debate on the restoration of the permanent diaconate, and pp.262-267, in the context of the debate on the schema relating to the ministry of priests). The arguments being proffered in favour of ending the discipline were much the same then as now: responding to the shortage of priests, the difficulties being experienced by priests in keeping their promise. According to Wiltgen, the acceptance of the idea of married men being ordained to the permanent diaconate was one factor in creating a media storm in favour of changing the Church's discipline. In the end Pope Paul VI removed the question from the competence of the Council just two days before the schema on the ministry of priests was to be discussed, indicating that the discipline was to be maintained and its practise encouraged.

If Wiltgen is correct, there really was very little sense among the Fathers of the Council themselves that the Church's discipline on priestly celibacy should be changed. It was something very much "taken as read". I have for some years been struck by something similar with regard to the new ecclesial movements. Despite the lay character of the charisms of many of these movements, they by and large also have sections of their membership who, wishing to live the charism more deeply, undertake to live the evangelical counsels (Focolare and Communion and Liberation are the most obvious, but by no means the only, examples). One wonders whether Pope Paul VI's intuition in favour of priestly celibacy was not in fact a better reading of the "signs of the times" than that of the advocates of its mitigation.

At the beginning of his Encyclical Letter on Priestly Celibacy, Paul VI wrote that he wished:
...to fulfill the promise We made to the Council Fathers. We told them that it was Our intention to give new luster and strength to priestly celibacy in the world of today. Since saying this We have, over a considerable period of time earnestly implored the enlightenment and assistance of the Holy Spirit and have examined before God opinions and petitions which have come to Us from all over the world, notably from many pastors of God's Church.
As well as a wide ranging discussion of reasons for and against the discipline of priestly celibacy, Pope Paul confirmed the discipline, with a qualification applicable to ministers of other Christian Churches and communities who are received into the Catholic Church: (Sacerdotalis coelibatus nn.14, 42):
We consider that the present law of celibacy should today continue to be linked to the ecclesiastical ministry. This law should support the minister in his exclusive, definitive and total choice of the unique and supreme love of Christ; it should uphold him in the entire dedication of himself to the public worship of God and to the service of the Church; it should distinguish his state of life both among the faithful and in the world at large......
In virtue of the fundamental norm of the government of the Catholic Church, to which We alluded above, while on the one hand, the law requiring a freely chosen and perpetual celibacy of those who are admitted to Holy Orders remains unchanged, on the other hand, a study may be allowed of the particular circumstances of married sacred ministers of Churches or other Christian communities separated from the Catholic communion, and of the possibility of admitting to priestly functions those who desire to adhere to the fullness of this communion and to continue to exercise the sacred ministry. The circumstances must be such, however, as not to prejudice the existing discipline regarding celibacy.
Despite all the contestation then and since, Pope Paul's encyclical represents the discipline of the Western Church; and, if one really looks at the sense of the Church's life rather than the efforts of the news media and activists, there has been no real sign of the discipline changing.

The Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus, providing for the establishing of personal ordinariates for those being received into the Catholic Church from the Anglican Church, explicitly cites Sacerdotalis coelibatus (VI.1-2):
Those who ministered as Anglican deacons, priests, or bishops, and who fulfil the requisites established by canon law and are not impeded by irregularities or other impediments may be accepted by the Ordinary as candidates for Holy Orders in the Catholic Church.In the case of married ministers, the norms established in the Encyclical Letter of Pope Paul VI Sacerdotalis coelibatus, n. 42 and in the Statement In June are to be observed. Unmarried ministers must submit to the norm of clerical celibacy of CIC can. 277, §1.
The Ordinary, in full observance of the discipline of celibate clergy in the Latin Church, as a rule (pro regula) will admit only celibate men to the order of presbyter. He may also petition the Roman Pontiff, as a derogation from can. 277, §1, for the admission of married men to the order of presbyter on a case by case basis, according to objective criteria approved by the Holy See.
So far as I am aware, it is only under the first of these provisions that married men have been ordained to the priesthood, both in the Ordinariates and in cases of individual conversions (corrections in the comments box, please, if I am wrong). But I have wondered about the implementation of that provision more than once. My own personal anecdote in this connection refers to a meeting I was involved in several years ago, a meeting attended by myself and three priests. As it turned out, the only unmarried person at the meeting was me, my priest colleagues all being former Anglican clergy (this was before the days of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham). In some areas of the Church's life in England, the number of married priests is such that one can genuinely consider there to be, at the level of practical experience, a mixture of married and celibate clergy. There is clearly a balance to be struck between the consideration of the situations of individual cases, for which Paul VI's provision exists, and the impact more widely for the witness to the discipline of celibacy (and perhaps also, in a limited way, for a sense of justice towards those already in the Catholic Church who might feel that former Anglican clergy have access to a path to the ordained priesthood without the demand of celibacy that is not available to them). There is, I think, some value to be gained in sharing more widely how that balance is considered in decisions relating to the ordination of former Anglican clergy.

[As a somewhat personal reflection, I would find any change to the Church's discipline with regard to priestly celibacy a counter-witness to the ecclesial value of the evangelical counsels, counsels which are not "the" exclusive way of living the Christian life, but nevertheless do form a part of the whole that is ecclesial existence. They provide a "form" for all vocations, even those that do not involve embracing them in the fullest sense, and an ending of priestly celibacy would undermine witness to that "form".]