Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Widdecombe: 'the Church doesn't do PR'

Ann Widdecombe thinks the Church's bad PR is due to "divine injunctions" preventing Catholics from boasting of their good works. But she also regrets it.

"It is frustrating that the church does so little to put its role in proportion. Meek and mild may be good, but leaving the ordinary members of the flock bleating in bewilderment as the wolves of Fleet Street snarl around them, jaws foaming with allegations, is not so good," she writes in the Guardian's 'Comment is Free' section.

On the cover-up of clerical sex abuse, she says:

"In the 1970s the National Council of Civil Liberties, an eminently respectable body staffed by eminently respectable people like Patricia Hewitt and Harriet Harman, actually allowed affiliation with the Paedophile Information Exchange, so little was the nature of paedophilia understood.

Cases were often dealt with by magistrates and sentences could be light. In the 1980s I was doing Samaritan training and, far from reporting cases, we treated child abuse no less confidentially than any other crime. It was the mid 1990s before we had a sex offenders' register in this country. Why would the Catholic church be expected to know what the rest of the world did not?"

Lord Patten on 'Hardtalk'

The Government's papal visit organiser Chris Patten's interview with Stephen Sackur is here.

In response to a question about the "shambles" over the preparations, Lord Patten said that "it hadn't helped that a general election intervened at a crucial stage of the preparations" and that the complexity of the arrangements had been underestimated. But the arrangements were now well in place, and the Protocol Office of the Foreign Office had "played a blinder".

The former Hong Kong governor was educated by Benedictines in Ealing, West London.

On the Pope's "lack of charisma" compared to John Paul II, he said: "It's incredibly difficult to be a public intellectual... like the Archbishop of Canterbury I think he sometimes finds it hard to cope with a world which wants to reduce everything to soundbites."  He said the "central theme" of this papacy was "to show the relationship between faith and reason. Far from being an introverted conservative, he has been seeking to develop a discussion with European society." Pope Benedict, he said, was a "world-class theologian" and one of the greatest intellectuals ever to be Pope. His 16 previous visits had all "confounded the critics".

On clerical abuse he said the Pope had been "tougher, quicker" on abuse than anyone else in the Vatican.

Asked if the Church was "in crisis", Lord Patten said that "the Church began in crisis. What was Good Friday and Easter if it wasn't a crisis?"

But while this was "not the greatest crisis since the Counter-Reformation", he said the Church had "serious institutional problems to deal with" as result of the way it had been shaped in relation to the Reformation and the Enlightenment. That "raises acute problems for the Church in the 21st century when it has to be more open to the world and in closer dialogue with the world", he said, adding that the Church needed now "to be more transparent and more accountable."

Asked about homosexuality, he said "the church is presumably full of devout gays" and that "the Church must repent that sometimes in the past it has encouraged discrimination." He said the Pope had not opposed civil partnerships.

Lord Patten said whatever his views on particular issues, "I am intellectually and in the marrow of my bones a Catholic."

He said Benedict XVI was "a defender of strong faith because he wants to have a dialogue with those who don't", adding: "Without faith, reason and a rule book simply aren't enough".

The Pope's "core argument", he went on, was that European civilisation had three great roots: Greece -- Aristotle and reason, Rome- rule of law; and Jerusalem - biblical religion. He said Benedict "would argue that if you take faith out of that you get into all sorts of difficulties, as in the 1930s and 40s in Europe", and concluded: "When we look at a Europe which too often defines itself in terms of GDP and per capita, one realises how strong and important his argument is."

Pope to highlight conscience at Newman beatification

From a report by Cindy Wooden of the Catholic News Service:

Since his election more than five years ago, Pope Benedict has presided over several canonisation ceremonies, but he always has delegated the task of presiding over beatifications to highlight the different importance of the two ceremonies.

The pope's decision to make an exception for Cardinal Newman demonstrates his personal admiration for the British churchman, an admiration he once said went back to his first semester of seminary theology studies in 1946.

"For us at that time, Newman's teaching on conscience became an important foundation" for theological reflection, the then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said at a conference in 1990 marking the centenary of Cardinal Newman's death.

World War II had just ended, he said, and the German seminarians who had grown up under Adolf Hitler witnessed the "appalling devastation of humanity" that resulted from a totalitarian ruler who "negated the conscience of the individual."

While most of the world's totalitarian regimes have fallen, Pope Benedict often has warned that the individual conscience -- which must seek and try to act on truth -- is being threatened today by a culture of moral relativism, which asserts that nothing is always right or always wrong and almost anything is permissible.

Pope Benedict also often speaks of the essential interplay of faith and reason, a point Cardinal Newman emphasised. While embracing faith and knowing there were no scientific proofs for God's existence, the cardinal was convinced that believing in God was reasonable, an idea that frequently is challenged by modern British schools of philosophical atheism.

Cardinal Newman's commitment to the search for truth, his concern for fidelity to doctrine and his conviction that faith must be lived publicly all are key concepts in the teachings of Pope Benedict as well.

In his celebrations with Catholics in Great Britain and his addresses to British leaders, the pope is expected to emphasize his conviction that religious belief is not a hindrance to social progress and peaceful coexistence.
She goes on to quote the director of the Anglican Centre in Rome, Rev David Richardson --
"This beatification is not simply a piece of triumphalism for a dead Roman Catholic, but it's actually an opportunity to embrace a wholeness -- his Anglicanism as well as his Catholicism". 
-- and Mgr Mark Langham of the Vatican's Council for Christian Unity:

"It is very clear that it was his study and his quest for the truth -- an absolutely integrated quest for the truth as an Anglican -- that moved him toward Catholicism ... [He] was always very clear that his role was not one of trying to poach people for the Roman Catholic Church."

Popemobile: the itinerary

According to a CCN press release:
At certain times during his visit to the UK the Holy Father will be travelling in the popemobile. Details of the journeys are below:

Thursday 16 September, Edinburgh
At around 12.30pm the Pope will travel in the popemobile from Holyrood Palace along Abbeyhill, Regent Road, Princes Street, Lothian Road, Tollcross and Morningside to Cardinal Keith O’Brien’s official residence.

Friday 17 September, London
At around 17:00 the Pope will travel in the popemobile from Lambeth Palace across Lambeth Bridge and along Millbank, the Pope arrives at the Palace of Westminster at around 17:15. There will be limited space along this route and limited vantage points from which to see the Pope.

Saturday 18 September, London
At 18:00 the Pope will travel in the popemobile along Horse Guards Road, The Mall, Constitution Hill and Hyde Park Corner before arriving at Hyde Park for the Prayer Vigil at around 18:30.

Say the Police: "Those wishing to see the Pope are advised to plan their trips well in advance and head for the central London Popemobile routes to avoid disappointment.”

Church 'enlightened on immigration'

The Catholic Church 'is one of the few mainstream institutions standing up for immigrants' according to Matthew Partridge at Guardian's Comment is Free.

After listing examples of the Church standing courageously against anti-immigrant opinion and polices across the world, he concludes:
"...while many of the church's critics attack it for being out of touch with modern values, its decision to choose principles over popularity has put it at the forefront of the immigration debate."

Standard silliness

Sam Leith in the Evening Standard thinks the papal visit is "hardly in the national interest".

His first case is based on the idea that people aren't very interested in it, which is to confuse the national interest with what people are interested in -- not the same thing at all. (Some journalists, of course, make a living out of mixing up "public interest" with "what people are interested in", which may explain the confusion.) But even so, according to last week's Tablet, one in five Britons will be following the visit with interest; can that be said of any previous state visit?

His second case is that the Vatican is a "pretend nation" because -- wait for it -- it was created as a state by the 1929 Lateran Pact with Mussolini. Actually, the Vatican is not a nation at all; it doesn't claim to be. And its statehood is irrelevant to the UK's diplomatic relationship, which is with the Holy See. And the Holy See is an ancient sovereign entity recognised as such in international law since before the age of the nation-state. Britain's relationship with it goes back to 1479. After a 415-year hiatus, relations were formally re-established in 1914, 15 years before the Lateran Pact. So it's not a pretend nation; and its status as a state is irrelevant to the FCO. It's a global Church with its seat of governance recognised as sovereign in international law.

His third case is that Britain has no self-interest in this relationship. "What are our commercial interests in trading with the Vatican? What are our strategic interests in relation to its military might? What cultural and scientific commonalities can be explored?"

Answer: no trading or strategic interests at all, which is why, according to the Foreign Office, it's such a valuable relationship. The Holy See is the seat of governance of the worldwide Catholic Church, the world's largest civil society actor; HMG and Holy See partner on all kinds of issues: climate change, poverty, development, disarmament, conflict negotiations. And the Holy See's diplomatic relationship with 200 states -- many of which the UK does not have relationships with -- proves invaluable, at times, for furthering the FCO's interests.

Leith should have stuck to what he knows. "Personally, I'd rather have an ear infection than a visit from the Pope", he says. That's the kind of thing. Safer territory all round.

The Scottish monsignor who drafts the Pope's speeches

Or at least, he coordinates the drafts from the English-language desk of the Secretariat of State. Introducing Mgr Leo Cushley (photo), profiled in the Scotsman.

Humanist warns his colleagues not to join scapegoating mob

The excellent Brendan O'Neill (photo), the radical humanist editor of Spiked, has again turned his fire on the anti-Pope mob. Here's the intro:

With just a week to go until Pope Benedict XVI arrives on British shores, the campaigning against his visit has become so shrill that soon only dogs will be able to hear it. And the great irony of this allegedly rationalist protest against the pope is that it is indulging in precisely the kind of demonology that the Catholic Church once excelled at. Campaigners have turned Benedict into a Satan for secularists, an Antichrist for atheists, against whom they desperately hope to define and advertise their own moral integrity.
O'Neill smells in its hysteria the whiff of the scapegoat mechanism. "The anti-papists are ironically utilising the Torquemada-ish tools of intolerance and fearmongering to turn the pope into a much-needed bĂȘte noire for their social set", he notes.

On clerical sex abuse:

When they aren’t demanding that Britain be made a pope-free zone – with scant humanist or tolerant regard for what that would mean for the six million Britons who follow the Catholic faith – the Benedict-bashers use the politics of fear to exaggerate the wicked works of the Catholic Church. Now, I know and you know and everyone knows (in way too much eye-watering detail, thanks to the misery-memoir industry) that some Catholic priests sexually abused children. That is disgusting and where appropriate it should be punished. But there is no justification for describing the Catholic Church as a ‘paedophile ring’, which carried out ‘systematic rape and torture’, giving rise to a palpable ‘stench of evil’. You don’t have to be a friend of the Vatican – and I am not – to be able to state categorically that that is top-notch bullshit.
And it ends:

These pope-protesters threaten to drain the last drop of decency from old-fashioned humanism, turning a once-principled outlook into little more than a requirement to hate religion. Yet from Marx to Darwin, the great non-believers of old had little interest in bashing religions or demonising their leaders, believing, in Darwin’s words, that ‘freedom of thought is best promoted by the gradual illumination of men’s minds’. Today it is a powerful sense of lack within modern-day so-called humanist circles – a feeling of directionless and soullessness – that leads them to invent religious demons against which they might posture and pontificate. That is why they talk in such religious tones (ironically) about the Catholic Church’s ‘clinging and systematic evil that is beyond the power of exorcism to dispel’ – because this is about cynically cobbling together some sense of their own goodness and mission. And in the irony to end all ironies, they make use of the very religious tools that secularists once hoped to supersede with reason – intolerance, fear-stoking, demonology – as part of their self-serving campaign.
Required reading.

But here's the point that needs expanding. In studies of mob behaviour, it is well documented that angry crowds project their own fears and tensions onto a scapegoat (a "demon"), in order to reassure themselves that they are "good" and the other "bad". It happens, especially, when the people that make up the crowd are insecure, anxious and disunited -- as O'Neill observes of the humanists ("a feeling of directionlessness and soullessness). Once the mob disperses, of course, everyone comes to their senses. And feels a little embarrassed. O'Neill is a true humanist -- and a friend to other humanists -- to warn them about this.

Economist surveys British Catholics

'The fruits of adversity' is the title of a detailed piece by the magazine's excellent religion correspondent. It finds that nowadays Catholic Britons "have little reason to call themselves embattled. In an historic reversal, adherents of their faith have been named to one top job after another", and offers some examples: Mark Thompson, Director General of the BBC; Lord Patten, chancellor of Oxford University; and Michael Martin, former speaker of the House of Commons.

But there's a name missing from the list: John Micklethwait (photo), editor of The Economist and author of the fascinating God is Back: how global rise of faith is changing the world.

The article is mostly about the positive impact of foreigners: "Under the impact of immigration," the article observes, "Catholic churches are flourishing". But it also notes that "another contingent is formed by young, successful men and women whose style and theology are conservative: believers in 'salvation by tweed alone, as one clerical wag dubs them."

The Church in Britain: Vatican statistics

The Vatican has released official figures for the Church in Great Britain (ie not Northern Ireland):
 Great Britain has a surface area of 230,762 square kilometres and a population of 59,381,000 of whom 5,264,000 (8.87 percent) are Catholic. There are 32 ecclesiastical circumscriptions and 2,977 parishes. Currently there are 59 bishops, 5,225 priests, 6,497 religious, 160 lay members of secular institutes and 34,669 catechists. Minor seminarians number 2, and major seminarians 245.

A total of 806,334 children and young people attend 2,828 centres of Catholic education, from kindergartens to universities. Other institutions belonging to the Church, or run by priests or religious in Great Britain include 8 hospitals, 1 clinic, 171 homes for the elderly or disabled, 79 orphanages and nurseries, 94 family counselling centres and other pro-life centres, 147 centres for education and social rehabilitation, and 31 institutions of other kinds.

Is the Church more conservative?

The Dominican friar turned green campaigner Mark Dowd (photo) has a BBC Radio 4 programme on Thursday asking that question. Goes out at 0900 and again at 2130. The producer is Helen Grady, formerly of the 'Sunday' programme. Will be worth a listen.

Dowd fans should also look out for 'Trials of a Pope' on BBC 2 on 15 September at 7pm. According to the programme blurb, it includes a look at "the attempts of the Church here in the UK to fashion a positive message about Pope Benedict by training up an army of young religious spin doctors called Catholic Voices". Who can he mean?

There are still tickets, incidentally, for Dowd's state-of-the-Church lecture at Heythrop College next Monday.

Newsnight shows B16 'part of solution' to abuse

BBC2 Newsnight last night ran a thorough report (23:15-37:59) on how serious sex abuse allegations "ran aground in the Holy See". The question Peter Marshall (photo) posed -- "Was Benedict XVI part of the solution or part of the problem?" -- was examined by looking at two notorious high-level clerical abusers: Cardinal Groer of Vienna and Marcial Maciel, head of the Legionaries of Christ.

Two figures do not come out well: Cardinal Angelo Sodano, secretary of state -- effectively, the head of the Curia -- under Pope John Paul II, stands accused of blocking attempts to act against the two abusers; and Pope John Paul II, who was portrayed as being  in denial.

The current Cardinal Archishop of Vienna, Christoph Schonborn, says Cardinal Ratzinger's attempts to deal with them were thwarted by Sodano, and the evidence in favour of this reading seemed  compelling from the others Marshall interviews.

Moving against Maciel, of course, was one of the first acts of Pope Benedict after his election.

The answer seems to be: "part of the solution".

Papal visit windfall for Edinburgh

Says the Edinburgh Evening News:

With up to 100,000 people expected to flock to the Capital to see the pontiff, Scottish Government economists calculate the city could benefit by up to £4 million from overnight stays and visitors spending money in shops and restaurants.
Says a Catholic:

While for Catholics pounds shillings and pence is not the important reason for the visit of Pope Benedict, it does nip in the bud any suggestion that somehow the Pope's visit is not a good deal for the taxpayers of Edinburgh or Scotland.

The contradictions of Terry Sanderson

The Guardian reports that +Peter Smith is to meet Protest the Pope. He is quoted as saying:
"They are perfectly entitled to protest. What I would ask of all of them is to do so in a dignified way, which does not disrupt the joy of the Catholic community in welcoming the pope. I hope they would show respect to those of us who do have [religious] convictions."
Terry Sanderson of the National Secular Society (photo), who has obviously attended few lectures, says he won't be "lectured" by the archbishop."There is a defensive tone in what [Smith] is saying," he said, adding: "We're not going to be kind to the Pope because he does not deserve to be respected."

Among the NSS's "General Principles" we find its aim is "to promote the friendship of all peoples as a means of advancing universal peace to further common cultural interests and to develop the freedom and dignity of humanity."

A statement from the Foreign Office

Further to the previous post on Geoffrey Robertson, the FCO has confirmed in "comments attributable to a spokesman" that, "Contrary to some assertions, the Lateran Treaty in 1929 was not essential to allow the diplomatic recognition of the Holy See. The UK first established diplomatic bilateral relations with the Holy See in 1479. Relations were ruptued in 1559 but were restored in 1914, 15 years prior to that treaty".