Monday, 13 September 2010

Belgium: Church pledges progress

Following last Friday's report by the Church's own safeguarding commission into abuse many decades ago, the Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, Andre-Joseph Leonard (photo), has given a press conference promising action against abusive priests and healing for victims. The Commission said it had found no evidence of a systematic cover-up by the Church, although much evidence of inaction.  Reuters here. BBC here.

CV coordinator Austen Ivereigh comments for BBC World Service 'Newshour' here (07:50-11:20). CV Christopher Morgan was interviewed by Al-Jazeera.

The papal party

John Thavis of the Catholic News Service tells us who will be in the Pope's seguito or entourage. They include
  • Fr Federico Lombardi, the Jesuit who is Benedict XVI's spokesman and press director. 
  • Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican's Secretary of State (sometimes known as the "deputy pope"), for many years no. 2 at the CDF where Cardinal Ratzinger was prefect. With Bertone will be Mgr Leo Cushley, the Scot who coordinates the English-speaking desk at the Secretariat.
  • Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Vatican's Secretary of Relations with States, or "foreign minister".
  • Mgr Georg Gänswein, the Pope's improbably good-looking papal private secretary (photo), who is always at his side.
  • Mgr Guido Marini, who is in charge of the papal liturgies.

And so on  - about 25 in all.

Sir Stephen Wall: B16 'irrelevant'

Since standing down as Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor's public affairs adviser in 2005 following Pope Benedict's election, Sir Stephen Wall (photo), the former foreign office mandarin, has become an increasingly vocal liberal critic of the Church. Now he has written a withering piece in the Financial Times lamenting Pope Benedict's conservatism, introversion, and irrelevance.

To have any hope of recapturing the imagination of millions of Catholics, not to mention non-believers, the Church would have to accept that it does not have a monopoly on truth, that individuals have their own values, that a changing moral code is a normal part of social evolution and that the Church’s own moral failings should induce a little humility.
Whatever one thinks of this view, it is at odds with all the evidence: religious faith which too closely mirrors the transitory, individualistic, shifting mores of contemporary society has been the quickest to collapse. The most marked shrinking of adherents has been in liberal Protestantism -- precisely the reasonable, tolerant, rational, shifting creed that Sir Stephen seems to advocate here.

Humanists blast 'secular witch-hunt' over Pope's visit

The splendid Institute of Ideas, home of authentically free thinking -- or at least, as free as reason can take you without Grace -- has added its voice to the growing backlash against some of the more primitive elements of the "Nope Pope" squad.

Claire Fox (photo), director of the British humanist think-tank which organises the annual 'Battle of Ideas' debating weekend, says: ‘While many reacted with horror at France and Belgium with their intolerant ban on the burqa, the response of some secular campaigners shows that such demonization of religious groups is alive and kicking in the UK."

"Hysterical, oft-repeated arguments such as that the Pope is “leader of the world’s largest paedophile ring” have more in common with contemporary heresy-hunting than the free-thinking spirit of Enlightenment secularism," says Fox, adding: ‘There are many reasons to criticise religious leaders, and plenty are coming from within the Church itself, but secularists really should take the opportunity to remind themselves of the Enlightenment values they claim to stand for – such as tolerance, freedom of thought and conscience and a human being as a rational subject - rather than focusing on what they hate about the Church and, by extension, Catholics.’

A number of Catholic Voices are involved in Battle of Ideas debates on secular tolerance and religious freedom. An IoI-organised debate on 7 October entitled 'Papl plots, burqa bans: what does it mean to be secular today' features CV Peter Williams. At the BoI festival on 30-31 Octover CV coordinator Austen Ivereigh is one of the speakers at “The Catholic Church: more sinned against the sinner?” debate, while CV patron Fr Christopher Jamison is speaking on the 'Trust in an age of cynicism' panel.

The ITV survey that ignores a crucial distinction

It's "what do Catholics really think?" week, as ITV announces yet another opinion poll, to be discussed on the Tonight Programme at 7.30pm on Thursday, hours after Pope Benedict arrives in Scotland.

It is a YouGov poll of 1,636 Catholics, which is a considerably larger and more scientific sample than the 500 quizzed in the weekend's BBC survey.

Here are the main findings:
  • 71% said that contraception should be used to avoid sexually transmitted disease and unwanted pregnancies.
  • Nearly 80% disagreed with the church's view that homosexual acts are morally wrong with 4 out of 10 saying both gay and straight relationships should be celebrated.
  • Two thirds think priests should be allowed to marry.
You get the idea. It allows ITV to ask hard-hitting questions like, "Is the Pope really in charge of his flock?"; and "If Catholics don't listen to him, why should we?" and so on.

But like the BBC poll, the ITV survey fails to make a vital distinction between practising and non-practising Catholics.

If these were the results of a poll of weekly Massgoers, then the hard-hitting questions could legitimately be asked. But practising Catholics are less than a million -- that's less than a fifth of the total number of self-described Catholics. So the questions fall flat.

You would hardly expect lapsed Catholics to have views close to the Church's teaching. In fact, you would largely expect their views to be identical with those of their non-Catholic neighbours. So this survey really shows nothing at all significant. One could even argue that the 70-80 per cent in the survey who are at odds with church teaching coincide exactly with the lapsed proportion of the Catholic population. But we don't know that for sure.

So here's a suggestion to the splendid presenter of 'Tonight', Julie Etchingham (photo). Why not commission YouGov to do two separate polls, of both practising and non-practising Catholics, and ask these same questions? And put them side by side. Then we can have a very interesting discussion.

'We can do business with Benedict'

Catherine Pepinster, The Tablet's editor, has a piece in the Guardian's Comment is Free reminding us why this is a state visit -- because the Government wanted it to be; because the Government wants to do business with the Church; because ...
the Catholic Church has a vast network of people on the ground, working in developing nations. Its global social services organisation, Caritas, is second only in size to the International Red Cross. The Church acts as a useful influence on other nations' views on such vital issues, and it's also a superb conduit of information from around the globe; its diplomats are legendary.

That is why all those British politicians went to Rome, and why the Pope is coming here, with the taxpayer part-funding the visit. It's all about pragmatism. No doubt all the media attention will be on the Pope by the media, and all the pomp and ceremony of the visit, and the possibilities of faux-pas, and what I hope will also happen – meetings with abuse victims and a chance to listen to what ordinary Catholics have to say about their Church.

But don't ignore the entourage that is coming too. For they're the ones who will do business with their hosts. They're the seguito, the followers, and in their midst are people who run Vatican departments. The talks they will hold with civil servants and ministers, including a major dinner at Lancaster House, will be a chance to discuss some of the most crucial matters affecting the world today, with people who could well make a difference. The Pope will address not just Catholics but the whole nation during his visit. If they give him a chance, he might just have an impact on their lives. But this visit could change the lives of people in Africa and Asia too.

Reuters profiles Catholics

Reuters has published a useful "FactBox" on British Catholicism.


-- Around 5.2 million Catholics live in England and Wales, or around 9.6 percent of the population there, and nearly 700,000 in Scotland, or around 14 percent. Catholics in Northern Ireland come under the Catholic Church in all Ireland.

-- In the 2008 British Social Attitudes survey, 43.2 percent of those responding said they had no religion. The largest church was the Church of England (22.5 percent). Other Christian groups were Presbyterians (2.9 percent), Methodists (1.9 percent) and Baptists (0.8 percent) with 10 percent listed as non-denominational or "other Protestant."

-- The main non-Christian faiths were Islam (3 per cent), Hinduism (1.5 percent) and Judaism (1.0).


-- Until the 1530s, Christianity in Britain came under the authority of the pope, and doctrine and worship were Catholic.

-- In 1534, after Pope Clement VII refused to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, King Henry VIII had himself declared Supreme Head of the Church in England and closed down the monasteries. He continued to consider himself a Catholic.

-- After a experiment with Protestantism under his son Edward VI (1547-53) and a return to Catholicism under his elder daughter Mary I (1555-58), England officially adopted Anglicanism in 1559 under his younger daughter Elizabeth I (1558-1603). Except during the reign of the Catholic James II (1685-88), Catholicism remained illegal for the next 232 years.

-- Catholic worship became legal in 1791. The Emancipation Act of 1829 restored most civil rights to Catholics.

-- In the 1840s, the ranks of Catholics were augmented by Irish immigration after the Irish Famine and by Tractarian converts from the Church of England, who included the future cardinals John Henry Newman and Henry Edward Manning.


-- The Act of Settlement of 1701, later extended to Scotland, bars Catholics from the British throne. It is still in force.

-- Britain restored links with the Vatican in 1914 after a break of 350 years and raised this to full diplomatic status in 1982. Francis Campbell, the first Roman Catholic appointed ambassador to the Vatican for 400 years, presented his credentials to Pope Benedict in December 2005.

Cardinal Cormac to begin Irish abuse enquiry after papal visit to the UK

The Guardian has the story. The retired Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor (photo), who has been put in charge of the Vatican investigation into the Irish Church's failures over clerical sex abuse, will begin the probe "within weeks" of the Pope's departure from the UK.

Gary O'Sullivan, editor of the Irish Catholic, said Ireland had not seen such a high-powered delegation, some of whom are in line to become cardinals, since the Norman conquest. "This is a very high-powered group of Vatican officials who are coming here to look over the workings of the church. You can compare it to top people in, say, IBM's global headquarters coming over to a country where one of its branches is based to sort out some problems there."

Reuters: A 'challenging' visit

The hugely influential news agency Reuters is portraying Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Britain as a tough challenge. He "is visiting a place where history has practically embedded suspicion of the papacy in the national psyche", writes veteran Vatican correspondent Philip Pullella (photo), who also mentions the protests and tensions with Anglicans.

Retro no-popery

It makes you nostalgic, really.

BBC puts Newman miracle under spotlight

Michael Hirst examines the healing of Jack Sullivan (photo) which has paved the way to the beatification.

Ticket slump?

Cv coordinators Valero and Ivereigh both  quoted in this Independent piece about a crisis in demand for tickets for papal events. Neither thinks there is such a thing as a "ticket slump" - whatever that is.

Valero on the British and religion

The Telegraph reports that CV coordinator Jack Valero (also spokesman for the Newman beatification and director of Opus Dei in the UK) has been briefing the press corps in Rome on Newman, the beatification, and Britain and religion.  

Brown on the new no-Popery

Andrew Brown, editor of the Guardian's Comment is Free Belief, is disgusted by the Stalinist hatred shown by the "Nope Pope" brigade, some of whose wilder views are lovingly reproduced here; Monitor realises, reading some of them, how much of the fun it has missed. Concludes Brown:
So far as I can tell, English Catholics are not very enthusiastic about this pope nor his visit, but if anything can get them to stand up and be counted, it is the antics of those who hate them. Equally, this kind of hyperbole and hatred can only discredit atheism, humanism, and secularism. That would be a pity, but the damage will be entirely self-inflicted. Or, as Comrade Stalin might put the matter, it will be history repeating itself as farce.

Two Pope documentaries tonight: spot the quality one

Two pope documentaries tonight include Catholic Voices and are broadcast at the same time -- but  it shouldn't be too hard to detect which one confirms to good journalistic standards and which is merely bad  propaganda.

Panorama, which goes out at 8.30pm on BBC1, examines what Pope Benedict knew or didn't know about abuse, and what he did or didn't do in response. In 'What the Pope knew', Fergal Keane (photo) travels to the US and Germany to examine the three cases which earlier this year were used by lawyers -- and some outrageously uncritical journalists -- to try to claim that Joseph Ratzinger, as cardinal prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), and earlier as Archbishop of Munich, failed to act against abusive priests. This is a high-quality investigation, likely to conclude there is no smoking gun before 2001; and Cardinal Ratzinger, of course, pioneered the reforms after that date. But it will still be highly critical -- whether fairly, we should wait and see -- and leave the audience wondering at a certain "deafness" on the part of church officials to the voice of victims back in the 1970s-80s.  This lack of awareness, this deafness, is a constant in the clerical sex abuse crisis; it amazes us, with the perspective of today, when society has woken to the horror of abuse of minors, that leaders of institutions back then were so slow to act (but then, as Ann Widdecombe recently pointed out, the Samaritians in the 1980s treated child abuse no less confidentially than any other crime). Fergal Keane gives a sense of tonight's programme in this curtain-raiser, which quotes CV coordinator Austen Ivereigh, who appears in the programme.

The hour-long 'The Trouble with the Pope', made and presented by Peter Tatchell, which goes out on Channel 4 at 8pm, will also cause Catholics to squirm for a different reason. Monumentally biased, packed with schoolboy errors,  Tatchell's programme, we hear, not so much strangles the truth as knocks it unconscious. According to Damian Thompson, it is so crude that it swings wide of its target.  "A review copy viewed by the Scottish Catholic Media Office," says ICN, "has highlighted numerous basic factual errors in the script". The same press release quotes the Bishop of Paisley, Tartaglia:

“I find it disturbing that Channel 4 should give Peter Tatchell an hour-long prime-time programme in which to attack the Pope and the Catholic Church. The programme shows conclusively that Mr Tatchell knows next to nothing about the real nature and mission of the Catholic Church. And his statement in the past that "not all sex involving children is unwanted, abusive and harmful" surely casts a huge doubt on his claim to be an expert on human sexuality or a credible critic of the Pope or of the Catholic Church.” 
Tatchell complains that he "made great efforts to seek the participation of leading Catholic figures" but was turned dow; tonight's programme may suggest why. CV Fiona O'Reilly is the only Catholic putting the case for the Pope; "alone among Tatchell’s interviewees", says Thompson, "she is not allowed to finish her sentences without being interrupted".