Saturday, 11 September 2010

Voci Cattoliche

A report on Catholic Voices in Corriere della Sera, one of Italy's widest-read newspapers.

Catholics look to Pope to make them more valued

The BBC has released the findings of an opinion poll they commissioned into attitudes among British Catholics on the eve of the papal visit. Here are some of the findings: 
• 69% think the Pope’s visit will be helpful to the Catholic Church here;
• More Catholics think the Pope should drop his insistence on clerical celibacy than do not (49% to 35%, with a further 17% uncommitted);
• More than six in ten Catholics (62%) say women should have more authority and status in the Catholic Church -- with identical scores for men and women.
• Almost six in ten, 57%, feel their Catholic faith is not generally valued by British society
• A majority of Catholics – 52% - say that the scale of child abuse within the Catholic Church, and how has subsequently been handled, ‘has shaken their faith in the leadership of the Church’
None is very surprising. The first finding -- 7 out of 10 Catholics think the visit will be helpful to the Church -- should be set aside the fourth: almost 6 out of 10 say their Catholic faith is not generally valued by society. There is a perception among Catholics that the Church's voice is largely excluded from the public sphere, and a belief that Pope Benedict can help put that right.

The desire for women to have more leadership roles in the Church is to be expected, given British cultural attitudes to gender. Most Catholics would be suprised to discover -- because they will seldom see them  -- the number of women who administer parishes (as pastoral assistants) or who are in charge of formation and catechesis, let alone those who run abbeys and schools.  That said, there could be, should be, many more Vatican departments run by women. (For background on women in the Vatican, see this CNS story from 2007).

Laura Crowley, Catholic Voice
Many -- not far under half, in fact  --  of the 'Catholic Voices' team are lay women like Laura Crowley (photo). Being a Catholic communicator in a fast-moving, often hostile news environment is hardly a place for shrinking violets and stay-at-homes. CVs Bonnie Lander and Madeleine Teahan, who describe themselves as 'Catholic feminists' are introduced as such -- Monitor has learned -- in Dowd's film next Wednesday.

Mass attendance on the up

according to Benita Hewitt at Christian Research:

The long term decline in weekly Mass attendance in the Roman Catholic church in England and Wales ended in 2005 and the figures have been broadly stable since. In 2008 there were 918,844 attending Mass, an increase from 915,556 the year before.

Pope to launch 'defence of religious freedom' in UK

Jonathan Wynne-Jones and David Harrison in the Sunday Telegraph reckon they know what's going into the Pope's speech at Westminster Hall.

In a speech to political and religious leaders in Westminster Hall, the Pontiff will deliver a thinly veiled attack on the perceived liberal direction of the country.

He will praise Britain's role in establishing religious liberty, but warn that it will suffer if it allows a secular agenda to destroy its Christian heritage.

Senior Roman Catholic sources said his message would be seen as a criticism of the introduction of equality laws that have impinged on the freedom of religious groups, although he will not directly refer to government policy. 
Those are good guesses, for anyone who has been reading the tea leaves -- not least recent interviews with the present and previous Archbishops of Westminster.

It's worth putting this prognostication alongside an article by CV coordinator Austen Ivereigh in The Tablet.

'Roots of the Big Society' contains interviews with Philip Blond and John Milbank (both in photo), the former the author of the 'Big Society' idea. The article shows how the thinking of Catholic civil society in Italy has influenced -- via Caritas in Veritate -- the thinking of the new coalition Government. The 'Big Society' is potentially what Catholic social teaching would call a "vigorous civil society" -- one which puts checks on, and holds accountable, the overweaning state and market.

But Ivereigh notes "a challenge here for Government" -- one that Benedict XVI might well be wanting to pose, however gently and discreetly. 
"Will it allow faith-inspired civic organisations the freedom to witness to their values – even when these values are abhorrent to the “rights” of some groups? Would the Big Society Government have allowed Catholic adoption agencies to go to the wall in 2007 because they refused to consider same-sex couples as adoptive parents? Can you have the fruit without the soil of greater religious freedom?"

Belgian abuse revelations: what they fail to reveal

A sad and shocking report made public yesterday documents evidence that there have been 476 instances of child abuse by priests in Belgium going back 50 years. The Guardian notes that the abuse went back to the 1950s, was most common in the 60s and was tailing off by the 1980s. "The exposed cases are old, of course," says the report's author, Peter Adriaenssens (photo), adding: "Society has developed." Monitor emphasises these points because they can get lost in the coverage.

The Daily Mail, for example, has a deeply misleading headline ('Fresh child sex abuse allegations rock Catholic Church ahead of Pope's UK visit') suggesting that the allegations concern the UK; and then some paragraphs which mislead even further.
The Roman Catholic Church was today embroiled in fresh child sexual abuse claims just days before the Pope is due to visit Britain.
A Belgian commission looking into sexual abuse by Catholic clergy says it has received testimony from hundreds of victims.

The commission's chairman Peter Adriaenssens said 488 witnesses came forward, most of them after the April resignation of a bishop for sexual abuse set off a deep crisis within the Belgian church.

A report by the commission lists in great detail how victims say they were abused by clergy, and lists one witness as saying it started as young as two.
Did you spot what's missing? That's right.

Is it possible that leaving the reader with the impression that the abuse was recent might be a deliberate policy on the part of the Mail? Could it be that significant facts which shed a very different light on the story have been deliberately suppressed for the sake of scandalising the reader? Monitor has no proof; merely wonders. 

The Telegraph, like the Guardian, lets you know straightaway that these are old cases which are now coming to light, and also notes that "the commission concluded that no evidence of a systematic Church cover-up was found." No such useful facts in the Mail. Maybe they were short of space.

'A resurgent and apparently visceral anti-Catholicism'

In a Telegraph article not uncritical of Benedict XVI, the historian Eamon Duffy (photo) has these three gems:
  • Catholic morale and moral credibility have taken a special battering from the revelations here, as across Europe and the US, of cases of physical and sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy, and the hardly less devastating exposure of a culture of institutional secrecy that often put the interests of the Church before the welfare of the victims. Pope Benedict’s personal revulsion at these revelations is not in doubt. In a series of Good Friday meditations delivered while still a cardinal, he denounced the “filth” that had entered into the heart of the Church. But under his pontificate the Vatican has responded defensively to the crisis, slow to grasp its seriousness and the need for complete openness in dealing with it. The numbers of priests involved in such cases is miniscule, but the impact on the decent majority of the clergy has been crushing. Even in the broadsheet press, indiscriminate disparagement of all priests as potential abusers is on the way to replacing gunpowder treason or the cruelties of the Inquisition as the stuff of a resurgent and apparently visceral anti-Catholicism.
  • The Pope will speak in Westminster Hall from the spot on which St Thomas More was condemned to death for his refusal to renounce the papacy and recognise Henry VIII as head of a purely English national church. The resonances of that heroic defiance are overwhelming, as is the mere fact of the Pope’s presence at the symbolic heart of a nation whose identity for centuries focussed itself round the vigorous repudiation of papal authority. The invitation to speak in Westminster Hall suggests that, five centuries after the Reformation, the Pope is perceived as having something worth hearing to say about the values that shape and bind British civil society. 
  • On his last day in Britain, Pope Benedict will beatify the great Victorian Catholic writer and thinker, Cardinal John Henry Newman. Like the Pope, Newman believed that the society of his day was cutting itself adrift from the religious values which had given the nation its distinctive moral and religious character. But he also believed that mere denunciation did no good. If Christian values were to survive, they had to commend themselves by their intrinsic attraction, “not by refutation so much as by an antagonist truth”. The young Ratzinger was deeply influenced by the writings of this very English saint: as Pope he could do worse than follow his master’s advice, and make the positive presentation of that “antagonist truth” the keynote of his visit.

Cardinal Cormac: B16 to warn against 'privatising religion'

In an interview with the BBC World Service (20:43 to 26:22), the retired Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, says Pope Benedict believes "Europe is afraid of its future".

He says the Pope in the UK will want to lay out some "principles" governing the question of the "freedom of religion in the public sphere":

He does not want religion to be privatised. He wants it to play its part in the public forum. He thinks it would be disastrous if religion in that sense were to be just personal, not social. He will be saying to the Government: we respect the opinions of others, this is a free society, but society must  also respect the views of the Church, which should be able to propose them in a public forum. There have been occasions when the state has gone too far in limiting the rights of churches and faith communities to their disadvantage.

I do think there's a very large number of people -- the majority: good, sensible people -- who are not averse to hearing this message. Because there is a worry that some of the freedoms that society gives have gone too far and that the views which make a community flourish are not being heard enough. That's why some of the pope's messages are countercultural. But there's a feeling in this country that maybe we must listen to this alternative voice.

Look out for 'Benedict enigma', says Our Man in the Vatican

Francis Campbell being greeted by Benedict XVI
"I have to say I have never met someone who is so different from his public profile", Francis Campbell, British ambassador to the Holy See, tells The Times' Rome correspondent, Richard Owen.

People expect Benedict XVI to be a "stern dogmatist", says Campbell, "but in fact he is a somewhat shy individual. He comes across as an elderly granderfatherly figure, an academic. He is always deeply interested in the person sitting in front of him, he is not looking at the big stage beyond." The British, he predicts, "will be surprised at his gentleness and humility".

Campbell recalls Pope Benedict's visit to Sydney for World Youth Day two years ago. "One heard in Australia a lot of the same things we are hearing in Britain -- the cost, why is this happening, and so on. But there were 250,000 young people there. Sydney was thronged with people wanting to see Benedict".

Three gems:
  • The Pope, who represents more than 17 per cent of the population, "is someone who may be the spiritual leader of your friends, neighbours and co-workers. There is no other foreign head of state of whom that is true."
  • Far from writing off Britain as godless, the Pope sees Christianity as "very much alive" in Britain. "It may be small in terms of practice, but it has a very vocal position in society, including Anglicanism, Catholicism, Presybterianism and evangelical groups".
  • Pope Benedict "draws a distinction between the Anglo-Saxon version of the Enlightenment, which was about freedom for religion, and the French or continental version, which was about freedom from religion. ... What he would object to is not atheism or humanism; they have their place and are part of the dialogue with faith. What he objects to is the irrationality of some of those on the polemical militant fringe who want to impose their order to the detriment of everything else."

Voces Catolicas

Catholic Voices is profiled in the Spanish-language Aceprensa.

+Vincent's Saturday newspaper offensive

Both the Telegraph and the Mail today carry interviews with the Archbishop of Westminster, +Vincent Nichols. Some gems:

On the visit:
"I am not anxious. I trust the Lord. It will be a wonderful few days."

On its costs:
"This, remember, is a state visit – the Pope has been invited by the British Government. Benedict is the spiritual leader of a fifth of the world's population, and the Catholic Church is the world's second biggest development agency – this is a substantive visit. The relationship with the Holy See is also Britain's oldest formal diplomatic relationship: we've been exchanging ambassadors since 1479. Don't forget, the last G8 meeting in the UK cost £28 million. Who's complaining about that?"

On Pope Benedict's 'conservatism':
"He is out there intellectually and spiritually. He engages with the contemporary world but retains an inner peace and a rooted spiritual life. He is a man of real poise, gentle and respectful. His view is that the Church should not be a closed place, trying to preserve tradition, but that it should be a luminous place. And he believes the only way the Church can shine is by being deeply rooted. People try to construct him as a conservative pope, but he's not. What he's trying to say is that, as a society, we need deep roots from which to draw this luminosity."

On clerical sex abuse:
‘It is the most difficult thing in my lifetime. The abuse of children is the most hidden of crimes. It is profoundly devious. It is so difficult to understand. It takes enormous courage to break the circle of silence, especially for the victims.'

‘It is very hard for someone who has not been through the experience to know how deeply it cuts through the essence of being human. It cuts through the ability to trust, to love, and the sense of self. It is difficult to move on from being a victim.’

On how sex abuse of minors has taken a long time to be understood -- by both Church and society at large:
"Let me give an example: there was a priest in Birmingham who in the late Sixties or early Seventies was reported to the police by the diocese and brought before the court. He was given a £600 fine and told not to offend again. It wasn't just the Church that didn't understand the nature of the offender and the gravity of the offence. Remember, there was a movement in the Seventies to make sexual intercourse with minors of 14 legal. So there was a whole different culture. Now, that is no excuse at all for the way we didn't get it right, but we are now on the right road. I can assure people that children in the care of the Catholic Church, in schools and parishes, will be safeguarded. They can be confident of that."

On a Vatican-directed international conspiracy to conceal abuse:

"People think the Catholic Church is a big international concern with Pope as CEO. Until 2001 the responsibility for oversight of priests fell on the bishop, and that's where we got things wrong. It was mostly about bad judgment, not bad motives. There is within the Church a great tradition of forgiveness, of giving a person another chance and saying 'well, with prayer and help you will get over this'. We know that paedophilia is much more difficult than that to get over. I have learned that when I am in conversations with priests and those telling me about these things, I have to apply much stricter criteria about who I believe. Sometimes it's difficult to believe the stories of those who have been abused. Their parents find it difficult to believe; I have found it difficult to believe. And I have found myself too willing to believe what the priest who has offended says to me. That's why it's crucial to have a system that doesn't leave a bishop on his own."

On relations with Anglicans / the ordinariate offer:

‘We are one family. This is not a recruiting drive. The values of this country are not served by a weaker Church of England. We want to be robust partners.’

On whether the Church will ever accept same-sex partnerships:

"I don't know. There is in the Book of Nature an inherent connection between human sexuality and procreation; and those two things cannot ultimately be totally separate. People who are of a homosexual orientation say: 'Well, hang on a minute. How is the Book of Nature written in me?' The most important thing the Christian tradition says is, don't see yourself simply as an isolated individual but as part of a wider family. The moral demands on all of us made by that tradition are difficult. That tradition says human sexuality is for an expression of total self-giving in fidelity in a way that is open to the creation of new life. Now, that's tough, that's a high ideal. I'm not sure many people have ever observed it in its totality, but it doesn't mean to say it has no sense."

"Fear is never a good motivation. The whole point of the Catholic journey is that it is a journey, and we try to hold together high ideals and understanding. That is the same for people who struggle in whatever way with their sexuality. It's an aim."