Sunday, 31 July 2011

Ireland: an alternative point of view

I am not in a position to make my own comment on the controversy in Ireland over the Cloyne Report and the speech to the Dail by Taoiseach Enda Kenny. I was able to recognise that remarks about "the elitism, dysfunction, disconnection, and narcissism that dominated the Vatican" in all probability reached well beyond anything in the findings of an investigation into an Irish Diocese. I was also somewhat bemused by the recall of the Papal Nuncio from Dublin to Rome "for consultations". The language of the Holy See's spokesman -  that the recall "denotes the seriousness of the situation and the Holy See's desire to face it objectively and determinately, nor does it exclude some degree of surprise and disappointment at certain excessive reactions." - was diplomatic in the extreme. Such recalls for consultation are usually a signal of a serious disapproval of something in the relations with the host state, but I am not sure that this implication has really been taken up by the Holy See or by anyone else. Indeed, the reported appointment of Rev. Giuseppe Leanza to Prague has confused things even more.

An alternative point of view on these matters can be found:

How many questions on the Cloyne Report?

The Cloyne Report: tackling prevailing myths

There is a side story running, too, with regard to one of the possible candidates for the Irish Presidency: 1, 2 and 3. Is a different standard being applied to comment on this side story than to comment following the Cloyne report?

H/T Fr Tim (take care to read the whole post) and Fr Ray.

Two visits to Ireland in recent years have suggested to me both the strength and the weakness of the Church in Ireland. After one visit, I wrote about attending Mass one Sunday at Knock:
Mass struck me as expressing Irish Catholicism at its best - a very strong devotion on the part of the faithful - and at its worst - a complete lack of any real sense on the part of the clergy that this was Liturgy and was due some objective sense of honour.
I can't help but feel that the abuse scandals, and the ineffectiveness of the response of some in the Dioceses and religious orders of Ireland, must be eating away at the strength.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Hacking, blagging, resignations and media ethics

I was away from home on holiday as the News of the World (but perhaps wider) phone hacking scandal broke (and the Guardian's coverage here), not just in one wave but in several, across the different beaches of the media world, the policing world and the political world. At one point, it became a moment of great excitement to watch the 10 O'Clock news after a day out somewhere in the Highlands to see who had resigned since the previous evening.

The announcement of an inquiry that would include a study of the ethical issues raised by the scandal prompted a number of thoughts. Judge Leveson, who has been appointed since the announcement to lead the enquiry, characterises its aims as follows (source: the Guardian here):
"The focus of the inquiry is the culture, practices and ethics of the press in the context of the latter's relationship with the public, the police and politicians."

"At some stage there needs to be a discussion of what amounts to the public good, to what extent the public interest should be taken into account and by whom."
My initial thoughts when the inquiry was announced were as follows:

1. It is not for the Government to define the ethics of a profession such as that of the news media (though it may be for a Government to enact prudent legislation relating to such ethics).
2. The more proper source for defining an ethical framework is the news media profession itself, perhaps through the mechanism of its trades unions (see, for example, the National Union of Journalist's Code of Conduct) and other representative organisations.
3. Recalling Pope Benedict XVI's remarks in Westminster Hall about the role of religious faith in relation to public life, I wondered whether the Catholic Church, and indeed other religious bodies, would be asked to give evidence to the inquiry on the basis of the ethical insight that they have to offer.

The clearest statement at an international level by the Catholic Church on media ethics is in a statement "Ethics in Communications" published by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications to mark World Communications Day and the Jubilee of Journalists in June 2000.
The ethical dimension relates not just to the content of communication (the message) and the process of communication (how the communicating is done) but to fundamental structural and systemic issues, often involving large questions of policy bearing upon the distribution of sophisticated technology and product (who shall be information rich and who shall be information poor?). These questions point to other questions with economic and political implications for ownership and control. At least in open societies with market economies, the largest ethical question of all may be how to balance profit against service to the public interest understood according to an inclusive conception of the common good....

21. In all three areas—message, process, structural and systemic issues—the fundamental ethical principle is this: The human person and the human community are the end and measure of the use of the media of social communication; communication should be by persons to persons for the integral development of persons.

Integral development requires a sufficiency of material goods and products, but it also requires attention to the "inner dimension" (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 29; cf. 46). Everyone deserves the opportunity to grow and flourish in respect to the full range of physical, intellectual, emotional, moral, and spiritual goods. Individuals have irreducible dignity and importance, and may never be sacrificed to collective interests.

22. A second principle is complementary to the first: The good of persons cannot be realized apart from the common good of the communities to which they belong. This common good should be understood in inclusive terms, as the sum total of worthy shared purposes to whose pursuit community members jointly commit themselves and which the community exists to serve.
The most interesting insight offered by these principles is to the understanding of the idea of "public interest", which, in the statement of the Pontifical Council, should not be immediately conflated to the idea of "common good". It raises the same question as is implied in Judge Leveson's remarks about the purpose of the enquiry, namely, whether the defence of "public interest" should continue to be used to justify otherwise disallowed behaviour.

In a paragraph that approaches more closely the practicalities that arise from the current scandal, the statement says:
The presumption should always be in favor of freedom of expression, for "when people follow their natural inclination to exchange ideas and declare their opinions, they are not merely making use of a right. They are also performing a social duty" (Communio et Progressio, 45). Still, considered from an ethical perspective, this presumption is not an absolute, indefeasible norm. There are obvious instances—for example, libel and slander, messages that seek to foster hatred and conflict among individuals and groups, obscenity and pornography, the morbid depiction of violence—where no right to communicate exists. Plainly, too, free expression should always observe principles like truth, fairness, and respect for privacy.
The statement argues for public participation in policy making with regard to the communications media, and the involvement of the profession itself and of religious bodies in the effort to develop ethical codes of behaviour. Decisions about media policy should not be made just on the basis of market or economic considerations as these cannot be counted on to safeguard the common good. this latter observation has implications for the existence of "media empires".
25. Professional communicators are not the only ones with ethical duties. Audiences—recipients—have obligations, too. Communicators attempting to meet their responsibilities deserve audiences conscientious about theirs.
The first duty of recipients of social communication is to be discerning and selective. They should inform themselves about media—their structures, mode of operation, contents—and make responsible choices, according to ethically sound criteria, about what to read or watch or listen to. Today everybody needs some form of continuing media education, whether by personal study or participation in an organized program or both. More than just teaching about techniques, media education helps people form standards of good taste and truthful moral judgment, an aspect of conscience formation.
The readers of some newspapers that I could name, and that might be trying to fill the gap left by the News of the World, might like to think about this paragraph! This paragraph suggests something about which muted comment has been made in the context of the recent scandal, that is, that the readers of the News of the World in particular and other newspapers in general should take some share in the responsibility for what happened.

The statement of the Pontifical Council ends with the following paragraph:
33. Jesus is the model and the standard of our communicating. For those involved in social communication, whether as policy makers or professional communicators or recipients or in any other role, the conclusion is clear: "Therefore, putting away falsehood, let every one speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another... Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear" (Eph 4:25,29). Serving the human person, building up human community grounded in solidarity and justice and love, and speaking the truth about human life and its final fulfillment in God were, are, and will remain at the heart of ethics in the media.
 And though I add it as a Postscript, the early paragraphs of the statement of the Pontifical Council make a point that applies just as much to those of us who are primarily recipients of the news media as it does to those who are its producers. It is human persons who are responsible for their behaviour in this field, and the responsibility should not be diffused to some impersonal corporate mass:
Although it typically is said—and we often shall say here—that "media" do this or that, these are not blind forces of nature beyond human control. For even though acts of communicating often do have unintended consequences, nevertheless people choose whether to use the media for good or evil ends, in a good or evil way.

These choices, central to the ethical question, are made not only by those who receive communication—viewers, listeners, readers—but especially by those who control the instruments of social communication and determine their structures, policies, and content....We say again: The media do nothing by themselves; they are instruments, tools, used as people choose to use them...

Day for LIfe (2): Bishop Michael Evans

The home page of this year's Day for Life features the words of Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to Britain last year:
‘Happiness is something we all want, but one of the great tragedies in this world is that so many people never find it, because they look for it in the wrong places. The key to it is very simple – true happiness is to be found in God. We need to have the courage to place our deepest hopes in God alone, not in money, in a career, in worldly success, or in our relationships with others, but in God. Only he can satisfy the deepest needs of our hearts’. (Pope Benedict XVI, The Big Assembly: Address to Young People, Twickenham, England, 17th September 2010).
The video resources appear to me much better than the materials on the front page of the site. In particular, there are three clips in which Bishop Michael Evans talks about his experience of the Christian life and of terminal illness. These are particularly moving given that we can now watch them after he has died. I do recommend these to you. [In passing, I was particularly interested in his citing Pope Paul VI, along with Brother Roger of Taize, as being an inspiring figure for his (Bishop Evans') Christian life.]

Day for Life (1): Edith Stein

The Scriptural text chosen for the Day for Life marked in England and Wales tomorrow is Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer - Romans 12:12. The media strap-line refers to what it means to live a full and happy life.

Jumping ahead a few days, liturgically speaking, we will soon celebrate the feast of St Edith Stein (Teresa Benedicta of the Cross). In Europe, this celebration has the rank of Feast, since Edith Stein is one of the patron saints of Europe. There are some testimonies about Edith that reflect the theme of the Day for Life.

During the years immediately following her baptism into the Catholic Church, Edith Stein taught at the convent of the Domincian sisters in Speyer. One of her students at the time wrote of her:
With very few words - just by her personality and everything which emanated from her - she set me on my way, not only in my studies but in my whole moral life.  With her you felt that you were in an atmosphere of everything noble, pure and sublime which simply carried you up with it.
It was after the rise of the Nazi's to power that Edith Stein was finally able to enter the Carmelite convent at Cologne. Her closest friend, Hedwig Conrad-Martius, described a meeting in the convent parlour with Edith after one year of the noviciate:
...the spirit of childhood, the spontaneous joy and the sense of being in safety that she had now acquired was, if I can speak thus, an enchantment. The marvellous double meaning of the word grace - free gift and charm - were here united.
Hedwig Conrad-Martius also provides my third testimony, commenting on the photograph taken of Edith just before she left the Carmel in Cologne to travel across the border to join the community at Echt in Holland. Hedwig observes how the photograph taken of Edith just before she left for Holland shows her previously innocent and joyful character completely disfigured by suffering.

Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer .

Friday, 29 July 2011

Holy Smoke

... or, as it is more properly known, incense. The July-September 2011 issue of The Sower contains a short excerpt from Romano Guardini in a series on the signs used in the Liturgy. One of the features of the new translation of the Roman Missal that is shortly to come in to use is that the Scriptural origins/echoes of the texts are much more obvious. This short excerpt similarly draws attention to the Scriptural basis for using incense.
"And I saw ... and an angel came, and stood before the altar, having a golden censer, and there was given him much incense ... And the smoke of the incense of the prayers of the saints ascended up before God, from hand of the Angel." [cf Revelation 8:3 ff].

There is a grand beauty in this laying of the bright grains on the glowing coal and then the scented smoke rising from the swinging censer. It is like a melody with rhythmic movement and sweet odour. Without any purpose, as clear as a song. Beautiful squandering of costliness. A gift of un-reserving love.

So once, when the Lord sat at table in Bethany, and Mary brought the costly spikenard and poured it over His feet, and dried them with her hair, and then the hosue was filled with odour, narrow minds murmured: "To what purpose is this waste?" The Son of God replied: "Let her alone, she hath done it for my burial". A mystery of death was here, of love, of odour, of sacrifice.

...Incense is a symbol of prayer, and precisely of that prayer that knows no purpose - that asks for nothing, but rises up like the Glory be at the end of a psalm - that desires only to adore and thank God "because of His great Glory".
Guardini recognises the danger of reducing the use of incense to a childish play-acting at which point a Christian conscience should call us back to prayer "in spirit and in truth". That having been said, I wonder whether parishes might consider returning to the use of incense at Sunday Mass, for the sense of the sacred that it engenders, a sense of the sacred that the new translation should also encourage.

Thoughts on LIFE

During my absence from blogging, LIFE have been taking some criticism (here, and here) over their non-directive counselling of those who make use of their crisis pregnancy services. I have three thoughts on this.

1. From the point of view of Catholics who are active in the work of LIFE, or who support LIFE by financial donations, we are in the area of bringing Catholic faith into contact with the surrounding political and social culture (cf point 4 of this post). LIFE is an organisation that is non-religious in nature, though it does have Catholics among its supporters. The non-religious nature of LIFE means that it represents a different "answer" to the question of faith/culture encounter for its Catholic supporters than those initiatives that are explicitly religious in their origin - the engagement of the Sisters of the Gospel of Life with the Cardinal Winning Pro-Life Initiative in Glasgow being a very clear example of this latter. I do not think it is correct to say that one of these approaches represent a "right" answer and the other a "wrong" answer - they represent different answers, and whether an individual Catholic engages with one answer or the other should be a matter for their own discernment, quite possibly a vocational discernment.

2. I do believe that it is correct for those engaged in the counselling and caring areas of pro-life work to meet the expected professional standards in those areas. Catholic engagement with the surrounding political and social culture does not do itself any favours by opting out of professional standards; on the contrary, it gains a voice beyond its own reach by being recognised for the professional nature of its engagement. The high regard in which Catholic childrens' societies are held in the social work field is a good example of this. The potential difficulty represented if currently accepted professional standards conflict with Catholic teaching does, I realise, make this not as simple a situation as it at first appears.

3. The debate about the work of LIFE has focussed around their counselling work. As indicated above, I do think it is correct that their counsellors should be trained to professional standards and achieve the corresponding qualifications. When a client approaches their counselling services, it does not appear to me that that encounter represents an appropriate point for "teaching" or for trying to persuade the client to adopt a particular viewpoint about abortion - it represents the "pastoral" moment and not the "teaching" moment, a distinction I have posted about somewhere on this blog but cannot find as I write. It is a moment for respecting and nursing the freedom of a person at a very vulnerable time; in the end, it will be the decision by the client and not a decision by the counsellor that will determine the outcome. It is not obvious to me that the non-directive counselling undertaken by LIFE does anything else than respect this freedom of the client.

To put my three thoughts into some personal context. Roughly a year ago, I took part in this vigil at the same time as Bishop Thomas McMahon (I was unable to take part this year due to holiday arrangments - I was getting soaked in an airport cark park at the time those taking part in the vigil were being soaked in Buckhurst Hill). And, as you will also appreciate, LIFE are featured on the side bar of this blog, as I do feel able to support them.

UPDATE: See also this report of responses supportive of LIFE in response to the criticism.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Imposing on the Ordinariate?

Thus Damian Thompson, to whom this blog does not normally link:
I’ll leave it there for now. But Cardinal Levada should be advised that, in this [ie the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham] as in other areas, he must not assume that the Bishops of England and Wales will implement the Holy Father’s plans with any particular urgency or imagination.
I think there is a danger that those of us who are not directly involved with the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, or who may have only an encouraging role, may impose onto it an agenda that comes from ourselves and not from the essence of the Ordinariate itself. Dear Damian appears to have done this big time in this post, though I have occasionally wondered over the last year or so whether others have been doing it in less conscious way.

My own thought is that, yes, the Ordinariate is a permanent structure, but that does not preclude the possibility that it will be a structure that serves for a time. It has certainly already proven its worth as an instrument in favour of unity of Anglicans with the Catholic Church, and this is in my understanding the intention of Pope Benedict XVI with regard to the Ordinariate. Whether in 30 or 40 years time converts will choose to join the Ordinariate or instead to join their geographically defined Catholic diocese I really am not sure. I am also not clear exactly how the idea of Anglican patrimony will be lived out in the Ordinariate. These are things that, from the outside, I am not really entitled to make judgements about but should leave to the disposition of the Holy Spirit.

The Complementary Norms that accompanied Anglicanorum Coetibus explicitly envisage situations where clergy of an Ordinariate cooperate in the pastoral care of their diocese of residence. In a situation where the numbers of clergy being received into the Ordinariate is very high compared to the numbers of lay faithful, there seems to me to be a mutual benefit in these clergy also helping in the pastoral care of the diocese. I think it is fair to say that, in my own deanery, the forthcoming appointment of four new priests has been made possible by the collaborative placement of Ordinariate priests elsewhere in the diocese. None of this should be presented as impinging on the independence of structure of the Ordinariate; and comment to the effect that Ordinariate priests should be being encouraged to establish their own congregations is to miss the point that these congregations, at least at the present juncture, are not sufficiently large to support a priest on their own.

One of the things that has struck me about events in my own diocese during the "choreography" of the move of these now-former-Anglicans from their Anglican parishes to Catholic parishes at the beginning of Lent, to reception into the Catholic Church at Easter, and then on to the ordinations of their clergy, is the high degree of collaboration and understanding between all the different parties involved. This, so far as I can tell, extends from parishes hosting Ordinariate groups to arrangements with the respective Catholic and Anglican dioceses. I have not seen any of this first hand, so I cannot judge whether this also constitutes what might be fully meant by "good will".

To B(log) or not to B(log) ...

Since my last post, and since emerging from the busy-ness of marking examination scripts and the end of the school year, and having returned from a very enjoyable eight days in Scotland, and having rescued myself from the one or two jobs I should really have done before going to Scotland rather than after coming back, I have been pondering the question of whether or not to resume blogging.

A number of the comments on my last post suggest that my reappearing in the blogosphere would be appreciated. I do think that the sense of those comments - about thoughtfulness and balance - is correct, and reflects what I aimed to achieve when blogging. I do miss the impulse for study and writing that arises from having a blog.

Given the content of my last post, though, I am still left with the question of what sorts of things I will be willing to blog about. Should I leave some topics alone, Liturgy perhaps being the most obvious one to avoid? I have not really come to a full answer to this question, having only reached the point that it might be useful to rationalise and therefore limit the number of post labels that I use, thereby providing some boundaries to the topics about which I will post.

Related to this is the question of what I should include in the sidebars to the blog. I haven't really come up with any rationale about this, though some editing is likely.

A first go at some principles I might well follow as I resume the keyboard:

1. I will want to engage in dialogue, both internally to the life of the Church and externally with issues arising outside of the Church. Put in another way, this is to say that I don't want to just talk to those who agree with me but want to offer a discussion to those who don't. This is something that I gain from my knowledge of the charism of the Focolare Movement.

2. Some might be keen to find the imperfections in them, but I believe that the fundamentally correct  attitude towards the teaching (and, indeed, the events) of the Second Vatican Council, of the pontificates of Pope Paul VI and of Pope John Paul II, is that they should be received as gifts to the Church to be valued and explored. The addresses of Pope John Paul I during his short pontificate are strikingly similar to those of Pope Benedict XVI during the early weeks of his pontificate, which is quite striking. The thesis that, during my own lifetime, the Church has been given precisely the Popes that she needed at precisely the times they were needed, is one that intrigues me.

3. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is the reference point for the content of Catholic teaching. This is really a consequence of the second point above. That this is the measure of faith expected of those joining the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham highlights this point for the whole of the Catholic Church. As Pope John Paul II said in the Apostolic Constitution ordering the publication of the Catechism:
I declare it [the Catechism] to be a sure norm for teaching the faith and thus a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion.
4. Blogging by definition brings Catholic faith and life into contact with the world at large, and much blogging comment takes place in that space between the Church and the world. There is more to this than just quoting Catholic doctrine, and thinking that that will suffice.

And, meanwhile, there is nearly two months blogging to catch up on!