Thursday, 9 September 2010

Boris welcomes Benedict

Says the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, in the Westminster Record
It is an enormous honour for our city that His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI will be spending much of his time in London during his visit to the UK and the truly momentous nature of His Holiness' visit, to Catholics in London and beyond, will be a joy to behold. I am sure that Londoners of all faiths, and indeed none, will give him the warmest possible welcome.”

"London has much to be grateful to the Catholic Church for over hundreds of years, historically through its concern for the poorest and most vulnerable in society to the present day, where it continues to make a virtue of public service through its impact in a range of areas of importance to Londoners - from education to the provision of pastoral care and social services for the community.”  

“With the visit of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, it strikes me that were we to be looking for a motto for our capital, Dei sub numine viget* seems to hit the right note. We look forward to welcoming him”.
*Under God’s power she flourishes

Geoffrey Robertson's strange humour

CV Madeline Teahan was uncomfortable at last night's LSE lecture; Robertson's "lighthearted slant was very far away from the pain at the heart of the issue", she writes at the Catholic Herald. Another CV who attended, Edward Rennie, told the Media Monitor: "If all or even most of what he said was true then he wouldn't make jokes whilst making his case, and no-one would be laughing."

The Church as bulwark against totalitarianism

A thoughtful piece from David Aaranovitch in today's Times -- part of the "what do we think of religion now the Pope's coming?" series of articles which have appeared in newspapers in these days. After the usual "well obviously I'm an atheist, and obviously I think religion is silly" paragraphs which begin this genre of article -- establishing one's freethinking credentials early on -- Aaranovitch has a nice twist. He's been speaking to Bernard Shlinck, author of The Reader, about whether nowadays people would better resist Hitler.

Schlink, who has studied this and spoken to people alive in Germany at the time, has observed that those who belonged to some kind of association — often religious — had more capability of avoiding the worst corruption of the Hitler years. It was the Catholic Church that organised against the policy of euthanasia of the handicapped. The individual stood little or no chance of making his or her conscience count in such a battle.

B16 @ UK 24/7

The papal visit will be live web-streamed by the Catholic Church here 24 hours a day during the four days of the visit, starting Thursday. When Pope Benedict is resting, or in a private meeting, there will be reviews and previews.

You can test the site and the quality tomorrow at 10.30am when +Vincent Nichols delivers his start-of-term message to Catholic schools live from Archbishop’s House, Westminster.

Other ways to connect with the visit:

1. Facebook here.

2. Twitter: follow on twitter @thepapalvisit and remember to use the hashtag #papalvisit

3. Flickr: three photographers are covering the papal visit here

4. YouTube. Papal Visit videos here.

An appeal to Johann Hari

following his appeal in today's Independent for Catholics to join the anti-Pope protesters.

I want to appeal to Johann (photo), and other columnists in our national press, in the final days before Pope Benedict XVI's visit. I know you are inherently decent people. You are journalists, who value truth, and the search for it, and both the freedom that this requires, and the solemn responsibility that goes with it. You are opposed to reproducing myths without subjecting them to verification; you deplore stories which are baseless, or so distorted that they serve only to obfuscate. You disapprove, surely, of exploiting the trust that readers put in our press to mislead them, or of fobbing them off with ill-informed, superficial, one-sided arguments. Yet over the next week you will continue to deplore this papal visit, cheering on the protesters. It is my conviction that if you impartially review the evidence that articles such as Johann's today have tried to claim as justifying that hostility, you will stand in solidarity with Catholics, and open your eyes and ears to what Pope Benedict has to say.

You begin: "For over 25 years, Ratzinger was personally in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the part of the Vatican responsible for enforcing Catholic canonical law across the world, including on sexual abuse. He is a notorious micro-manager who, it is said, insisted every salient document cross his desk. Hans K√ľng, a former friend of Ratzinger's, says: "No one in the whole of the Catholic Church knew as much about abuse cases as this Pope."

Yet it was not until 2001 that the CDF was put in charge of dealing with the mounting cases of abuse, especially in the English-speaking world. Until then, "policies" on clerical sex abuse, to the extent the Vatican had any, were the responsibility of the Congregation of Bishops. But the big point you ignore is that it was the bishops in their dioceses across the world who were and are responsible for the actions of their priests, and it was the bishops who acted or failed to act against them.

After 2001, following Pope John Paul II's motu proprio of that year, it is true, Cardinal Ratzinger came to know more about abuse cases than anyone else in the Vatican, but it was his task, each Friday, to review the files on abusive priests which, as result of that motu proprio, had to be forwarded to him from the local dioceses -- to ensure that action would be taken. He used to call it his Friday penance, and later referred to the "filth" in the Church. He became very aware of the issue, and put in place a series of reforms, which he has continued as Pope, to ensure that abuse cases could no longer be ignored or shelved by bishops.

You go on: "We know what the methods of the church were during this period. When it was discovered that a child had been raped by a priest, the church swore everybody involved to secrecy, and moved the priest on to another parish. When he raped more children, they too were sworn to secrecy, and he was moved on to another parish ... The church insisted all cases be kept from the police and dealt with by their own "canon" law – which can only "punish" child rapists to prayer or penitence or, on rare occasions, defrocking."

The cardinal error you make  is to conflate the Vatican with the Church present across the world. Do you think the Vatican "micro-manages" 219,655 parishes in hundreds of countries, and decides where its 400,000 priests are sent? Do you imagine that such a management would be possible, even if it were desirable? What you describe -- abusive priests sometimes being sent to other parishes (usually after therapy, which the "experts" of the time recommended) -- was, so often, sadly true; but it was the bishops who made those decisions.

When you say that "the Church insisted all cases be kept from the police and dealt with by their own canon law", are you referring, then, to some instruction from Rome? There is none. Canon law itself directs obedience to civil law. And of one thing I can assure you, because it is spelled out in detail in all the independent reports into clerical abuse  -- notably two most important ones: the US John Jay Criminal Study of 2004, and the recent Murphy Report into Dublin diocese -- it is that the action and penalties clearly spelled out in canon law were almost never implemented. Indeed, the way that canon law went into abeyance in the 1970s-80s (for various reasons which we shall not dwell on here) is one of the most shocking aspects of the crisis, for it was the Church's own law which demanded that abusive priests face justice; but the path of therapy was time and again preferred.

"Ratzinger was at the heart of this", you say. "He refuses to let any police officer see the Vatican's documentation, even now, but honourable Catholics have leaked some of them anyway." I'm sorry? At the heart of what? And when has he refused police access to Vatican documentation? Why would the police want that access when these are diocesan files, forwarded to the CDF after 2001? Surely the police can just ask the dioceses for them? And of course they have. Time and again. Nobody except lawyers attempting to bring a class action against the Vatican has ever claimed that Rome is "concealing" abuse cases; these are all cases which fall under local civil jurisdictions.

You then go on to give three "examples" to try to demonstrate that Cardinal Ratzinger personally obstructed abuse cases. The first dates back to when he was briefly an archbishop in Germany in the 1980s. The Hullerman case does indeed suggest that  -- typical of the time -- a priest was moved to another parish. But nobody has demonstrated that Archbishop Ratzinger was responsible for that decision. And even if he had been, he was still, then, a diocesan bishop, and your attempt to demonstrate a Rome-directed cover-up is not assisted by mentioning this case.

The two other cases you mention, Kiesle and Murphy, are both from the United States and both do involve Cardinal Ratzinger, then CDF prefect, because they concern laicisation, which was and remains the responsibility of the CDF. In both cases there was a failure speedily to laicise priests who had been guilty of or convicted of abuse (as it happened, in one case, the police prosecuted; in the other, they dropped the case). You draw the quite bizarre conclusion from this that the delay in laicisation enabled these priests to continue abusing. But it is not laicisation which prevents a priest from abusing; it is removal from active ministry.

Removal from active ministry is when a bishop stops a priest from functioning as a priest -- he cannot say Mass, hear Confessions, be a pastor, or administrator of a school, or indeed anything else. Crucially, that act  -- removal from act of ministry -- prevents a priest from abusing. Laicisation is a canonical procedure -- and before you object, let me point out that a state such as the UK has no power to laicise, and that this is purely a canonical process -- which takes from the priest the sacramental power he was given at ordination. The difference between the two should be obvious. The first, which is the task of the bishop, is the crucial act which prevents further abuse. The second, which is the task of Rome, is entirely irrelevant to whether a priest can abuse or not. I hope that's clear. It is rather important.

Now, as it happens, laicisation is an important action for the Church to take against an abusive priest, because it is very painful for a victim to see that his abuser remains a priest, even if he is not acting as one. But back in the 1980s-90s, it was impossible swiftly to laicise a priest, because it involved a lengthy legal process. What is more, at the time there were many priests applying to be laicised because they wished to marry, and there was a major backlog. All the evidence suggests that the letter signed by Cardinal Ratzinger "for the good of the Church" was a form letter which was sent to all priests who had applied for laicisation, for whatever reason, effectively saying: go away and think about it.

Cardinal Ratzinger himself can't have been comfortable about this, because in 2001 -- as result of the reforms introduced by John Paul II -- the CDF made use of new guidelines to introduce a fast-track laicisation for priests guilty of abuse. The problem, therefore, of a priest being acted against in every other sphere (ie removed from ministry, prosecuted by police) but remaining a priest, was resolved, and nowadays a speedy defrocking is standard practice. But I repeat, the length of time it used to take to laicise had no bearing on whether a priest was able to abuse. The crucial action was removal from ministry -- a bishop's task.

You say: "In 2001, Ratzinger wrote to every bishop in the world, telling them allegations of abuse must be dealt with 'in absolute secrecy... completely suppressed by perpetual silence'. That year, the Vatican actually lauded Bishop Pierre Pican for refusing to inform the local French police about a paedophile priest, telling him: 'I congratulate you for not denouncing a priest to the civil administration.' The commendation was copied to all bishops."

Let's take this one by one. In 2001 Cardinal Ratzinger updated a document relating to the abuse of sacraments, and especially a particular canonical crime which is entirely unknown in any civil law of any land, namely exploiting the secrecy of the confessional to solicit sexual favours. The document did indeed demand confidentiality, because investigating such an abuse, as you can imagine, is not easy; the confidentiality was imposed not to cover up this abuse, but to act on it -- to enable action, by imposing strict rules of confidentiality to allow allegations to be made and acted on without (until they were proved true) ruining the good names of either the priest or the alleged victim.

But this was an internal procedure relating to an internal crime, one that does not exist in civil law. The document did not say that a victim could or couldn't also go the police with an allegation -- that is a matter for the civil law of that country (and by the way, in some countries paedophilia is a crime, in others not). If you look at the rules governing, say, the disbarring of a dodgy barrister from the Bar Council, you will not find any reference there to going to the police either; these procedures concern a separate jurisdiction. I imagine in the Independent you have guidelines on how to handle staff misdemeanours; some of them may involve crimes, some not; no one claims that your guidelines subvert British law, surely? And if your staff review procedures demand confidentiality, is this a reason to suppose that the Independent is "covering up" crimes which should be put in the hands of the police? I don't think so. 

As to  the letter to Bishop Pican, this was not a letter written by "the Vatican" to the world's bishops; it was a letter to the bishop from the prefect of the Congregation of the Clergy, Dario Castrillon Hoyos, whose attitude, I agree, was shocking. When that letter came to light earlier this year, the Vatican's spokesman said, in effect, "you see what we were up against?" More specifically, you see what Cardinal Ratzinger was up against. That letter directly went against the guidelines which the CDF was putting into place that year -- guidelines which, by the way, made it clear that a case of abuse should "normally" (they can't say always: in some countries child abuse is not a crime, in others it is a crime  but not acted on) be reported to the civil authorities. Cardinal Castrillon-Hoyos was retired in 2004, leaving the way clearer for Cardinal Ratzinger's necessary reforms.

"Once the evidence of an international conspiracy to cover up abuse became incontrovertible to any reasonable observer", you go on, but there's the rub: there was no international conspiracy, there is none, and any "reasonable observer" that has looked at the facts has reached that easy conclusion, inconvenient as it is for Dan Brown's many fans.

And so you go on -- Belgium was a shocking example of the police overreaching themselves, but let's not dwell there -- to say: "When Ratzinger issued supposedly ground-breaking new rules against paedophilia earlier this year, he put it on a par with... ordaining women as priests."

A mere flick of google would have told you that's nonsense. The only new reason that modifications to the canon law on laicising abusive priests and attempting to ordain a woman were issued in this same category -- a category, by the way, which included much else besides -- was that they both related to the same area of  canon law, to do with abuse of the sacraments. But the Vatican's spokesman made absolutely clear at the time that there was no suggestion whatever that the two were on the same moral level, and he said so, precisely because he knew that people like you would wilfully misinterpret it.

Yes, wilfully. Because you must have known, surely, that that's what Fr Lombardi said, and yet you chose to ignore it. Correct me if I'm wrong. Perhaps you didn't know, and were in a rush.

But you're onto condoms now, because the rest of the article is mere padding. "When he visited Africa in March 2009, he said that condoms 'increase the problem' of HIV/Aids." You leave this statement alone, because it must be so obviously untrue. Yet international Aids experts such as Harvard's Edward Green rushed to agree with him. And here are some more reasons why the Pope is right -- indeed speaks from the knowledge of the Church in Africa, deeply embedded with, and caring for, those afflicted with Aids.

"His defenders say he is simply preaching abstinence outside marriage and monogamy within it, so if people are following his advice they can't contract HIV – but in order to reinforce the first part of his message, he spreads overt lies claiming condoms don't work." Except he doesn't. He says condoms-based programmes are ineffective and can make the problem worse. You go on to suggest -- although you don't actually state it -- that Pope Benedict has suggested that condoms are porous. He has never said this, although a discredited paper by a long-dead Vatican cardinal did try to suggest as much -- and was shot down.

I know that for many liberal, enlightened, rational columnists the kind of crude hatchet-swinging anti-papal polemic you have written makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside. It makes you feel better about yourselves to be on a moral crusade against the "immorality" of a Church. But ask yourself this: would the "Nazarene carpenter" -- and thank you, by the way, for introducing Jesus -- be on the side of such visceral, irrational, unfounded loathing? Would he approve the setting aside of truth, reason, evidence, balance? Or would he urge a little research? I expect he would want you to welcome his vicar on earth, and to dare to listen -- respectfully, openly, fearlessly -- for when the Truth might dare to find you.

The Pope is not above the law -- nor below it

Neil Addison (right), Catholic barrister of the Thomas More Legal Centre, answers questions about the Pope and the Church's legal status at ICN here.

Papal visit windfall for Birmingham

According to yesterday's Birmingham Post, the papal visit will bring £12.5m into the city's economy. The figure comes from the city councillor who is coordinating the event, Alan Rudge, who says:
This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for the city, a momentous event. And aside from the significance of his visit, there will be an economic gain to the city of about £12.5 million. This is good for the city.
And the cost to the city's taxpayers? Just £80,000.

See also: 'Papal visit windfall for Edinburgh'.  

'La contre-offensive mediatique des laics anglais'

That's to say, "media counter-offensive by English lay people" -- the headline over a detailed profile of Catholic Voices by Celine Hoyeau in the French Catholic daily La Croix.  The article carries quotes from CVs Ella Leonard (photo) and Peter Williams, as well as CV coordinator Austen Ivereigh.

Translation by CV Kathleen Griffin:

Twenty British Catholics have been taking part in an intensive six month training programme, to prepare to respond to media questions before and during the Papal visit of Benedict the  XVI to the UK.

It’s a female contest, this morning, on the set of BBC Breakfast, the daily morning show of the famous British radio and television station. “Should the Catholic church ordain women?” the presenter asks.

Also present on the set are Therese Korturbash, international co-ordinator of the campaign for the ordination of women and Ella Leonard “ordinary Catholic” , commercial lawyer and mother. 

The first speaker argues in favour of the equality of the sexes, the second with the traditional arguments of the magisterium and she also adds her own witness as an engaged Catholic : “ I am perfectly at ease with this and don’t feel at all frustrated as a woman, I absolutely have my place in the Church, “ she says with conviction.

Clear, calm and modern, Ella Leonard seems to have been in television studios all her life. In fact she’s been part of an intensive six-month training in media skills with Catholic Voices, an initiative  started by lay people to stake a presence in the media and to deal with criticism surrounding the visit of Benedict XVI to the UK. 

For several months various associations, including humanist, secular and gay rights ones, have been using the recent paedophile scandals to step up their virulent public attacks against the Catholic Church and more generally against all religions in the UK.

“The project was born after a disaster” relates one of the founders,  Austen Ivereigh, 44 , a Catholic journalist who writes for the  Guardian and America magazine. “Last October the organisation Intelligence Squared had a debate on the value of Catholicism in society: they had invited the heavy hitters on the atheist side, but no one from the English bishops accepted the invitation. The two badly prepared Catholics who took part in the debate were massacred….We didn’t want the same thing to happen during the Papal visit.”

With Jack Valero, Opus Dei representative in the UK and Kathleen Griffin, a former BBC producer, Austen Ivereigh then had the idea of putting together a team of unofficial spokespeople for the Catholic Church who needed to be “ordinary” young lay people, at ease with their faith and the modern world, able to express themselves clearly and available for interview at a moment’s notice.
Notices were put in the newspapers. A hundred candidates were put through a rigorous selection procedure and chosen according to three criteria. ”Personality, attitude and catholicity” sums up Austen Ivereigh. The key question was “are you at ease with the teachings of the Catholic Church?” We turned down all those who thought the bishops were not left wing enough, or on the contrary to have made compromises with modernity. Mostly the media only interviews extremists.”

Lawyers, teachers, students, housewives…the team is currently made up of twenty or so members.

“We don’t represent the sociological diversity of the Catholic Church, but we have never sought to do so” says Ivereigh, emphasising that the initiative has the support of British bishops but remains independent.

Placed under the auspices of the Catholic Union, an organisation dedicated to the promotion of the Catholic Church in public debate, the project has cost 70 000 euros and been financed by two charities and some generous donations.

From March to July, twice a month, the candidates have received intensive training in London given by professionals from the BBC or Sky news. They have learnt how to answer in a concise and imaginative way, on ten neuralgic issues: paedophilia, Aids and condoms, homosexuality, contraception, science, the place of women in the Church, politics, etc…. “We are  recovering the ancient tradition of apologetics  and adapting it for age of CNN,” Ivereigh explains.

So now the “Catholic Voices” have been sent out into the media arena and it’s been a success.  Peter Williams, 26, has already been asked for three interviews in the coming weeks. A former atheist, this theology student is taking the preparation seriously.

“I’m listening to public opinion, I’m getting the facts straight, I’m reading up on the scientific papers.... The fact that I’m an ordinary young man gives credibility to what I say, for example, on condoms”. 

This tall, fair-haired, chatty young man explains: “I like to debate my convictions with my atheist friends at university. It’s a very stimulating challenge for me to prove the harmony between faith and reason.”

So are these Catholics a bit too good to be true? “On the contrary” retorts Austen Ivereigh,” the media don’t really care which Catholics they interview. What they need are people who are media friendly and studio ready. We’ve already had requests to help set up a similar initiative in other countries -- including Ireland.”

The Pope's British Divisions: a varied bunch

Mark Dowd's "The Pope's British Divisions" on BBC R4, broadcast this morning, is repeated at 2130 tonight and well worth a listen. Into half an hour he packs a vast panorama of the Catholic Church in the UK, asking how it has changed since Pope John Paul II's 1982 visit. He speaks to young Catholics who think the best thing about being a Catholic is how you can "pick and mix what you believe", as well as objectors to a Mass for gay people in London, who think that the fact that the Mass is approved by both the Archbishop of Westminster and the Vatican proves that only a "very small remnant" will be saved at the end. There are many stories of how immigrants have transformed the British Catholic Church.

Sir Stephen Wall, former adviser to the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, recalls how Cardinal Angelo Sodano, then secretary of state, would called Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor to "correct" something he had read in the Tablet. Dowd travels to Blackfen in Kent, where the Extraordinary form of Mass (the Rite pre-Vatican II) is proving very popular but has also alienated many parishioners. He talks to a priest who laments how the clerical sex abuse crisis has led to priests not wanting altar servers or football teams; but talks to seminarians at Oscott College who are stalwart.

Dowd concludes the Church is more "polarised" now between "traditionalists" and "progressives" but at the same time "more Catholic" -- in the sense of "universal" -- than 28 years ago. Superb.

Opponents of papal visit 'are the real bigots'

So says Stephen Glover in the Daily Mail in a thoughtful piece. "The Devil himself could hardly have got a worse press", he says of media coverage of the Pope a week before he arrives in the UK. Glover goes on to point out some of the oddities in the coverage, such as the objections to costs -- yet there was no objection to the cost of the state visit of South Africa President Jacob Zuma, "a misogynist polygamist -- and last night's LSE lecture by Geoffrey Robertson QC, which revealed the barrister to be the "true extremist". Glover is not Catholic, and "disagrees", he says, with Benedict XVI on many issues; but he recognises him to be  "a humane man", admirable in many ways. And he wonders where the hatred comes from.

I have been trying to puzzle out the sheer bloody mindedness and unreasonableness of some of the Pope’s critics. In part it must arise from ancient feelings of fear and hatred about the Vatican and the Papacy which run very deep in this country for well-known historical reasons, and which I have owned up to sharing, albeit in a tiny degree.
But there is something else at work, even more intolerant. It is the voice of secular humanism.I accept, of course, that lots of secular humanists are tolerant and reasonable people. But there is a hard-core which embraces and promotes atheism with the blind fervour of religious zealots.Richard Dawkins is my prime exhibit, but there are many others.
Such people can just about put up with wishy-washy Anglican clerics who substitute fashionable secular platitudes for traditional beliefs, and often display a very faint faith in God. What these zealots find detestable in Pope Benedict is not only his utter refusal to buy into their secular liberal beliefs, but also his power and effectiveness in sustaining an alternative, God-based moral system.

Catholic Voices debates PtP on C4 News

Las night's Channel 4 News -- to watch the item go here and select 'Pt4: Pope Protest' on the right-hand side -- ran a story about the meeting held yesterday morning between Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark and the Protest the Pope coalition. The meeting was suggested and arranged by the police, and resulted in reassurances to the Church that the protest would not seek to disrupt the papal visit (see Guardian here and ICN here, which has +Peter's statement.)  "It was all very British," said C4 news presenter Jon Snow introducing the item, which included an enthusiastic "view from the pews" from Catholic Voice Fiona O'Reilly (photo from the report) and afterwards a debate between Peter Tatchell of Protest the Pope (photo, left) and CV coordinator Austen Ivereigh. Tatchell said there were "secret files" on abusive priests in the Vatican that there being witheld from police. Ivereigh thought Tatchell had been reading too much Dan Brown.