Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Tony Blair compares Pope to Newman

In the Osservatore Romano, the former PM and Catholic convert writes that Pope Benedict XVI "is in profound harmony with the spirit and ideas of Newman", and shares his "intellectual courage".

David Cameron's welcome message to Pope

The PM has recorded a message of welcome to the Pope on a video posted on the No. 10 website.

David Cameron says the visit will be "a very special four days, not just for our six million Catholics, but for many people of faith right across Britain and millions more watching around the world".

He adds: "It's a unique opportunity to celebrate the enormous contribution that all our faith communities make to our society and to celebrate their role in helping to build a bigger and stronger society."

The prime minister also said society should be about "more than materialism" and should instead be about shared values and working for the common good.

He went on to say: "Of course, not everyone will agree with everything the Pope says, but that should not prevent us from acknowledging that the Pope's broader message can help challenge us to ask searching questions about our society and how we treat ourselves and each other.

"The Holy See can also be a partner for us with great influence across the world and we have incredibly important work to do together on fighting poverty and disease, on winning the argument to get to grip with climate change, and on promoting a multi-faith dialogue and working for peace across our world."

Celibacy debate: the arguments

Last night's debate sponsored by the Universe which promoted an end to mandatory priestly celibacy had two main speeches. Baroness Helena Kennedy spoke for the motion; Bishop Malcolm McMahon against.

Kennedy's was obsessed with sex and power. The Church, she said, sought to "control women's reproduction". Celibacy was "about power and control". The imposition of sexual abstinence required an unhealthy act of will; sex, she said, was a "primal life-force"; without it, priests suffered loneliness, perversity and guilt. Celibacy was rooted in cultic pagan ideas of uncleanliness and only became mandatory because of the Church's need to hold onto property and money. Celibate priests, she said, were cheap; but their cost was enormous. Sex should not be compulsory, she made clear. But celibacy should not be mandatory. Seminaries were homoerotic environments, like boarding schools, where child abusers sought sanctuary. "Paedophile men often find their way into the priesthood", she observed. Was Rowan Williams less holy, being married? she asked.

Bishop McMahon said celibacy was rooted in the example of Christ, who united the role of priest and victim. Where priesthood has gone wrong it was because the "victim" part had been forgotten. Jesus had abolished the functionalism of priesthood; a priest isn't what one does, but what one is. Jesus was from a culture which had a keen sense of the value of marriage; his celibacy, like his prohibition of divorce, was revolutionary. At the beginning, Christian priests chose sexual abstinence; later, priesthood became reserved to those men with the capacity for celibacy. Through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, a priest becomes configured to Christ -- not a symbol of power, but naked and dying. 

There was some discussion of holiness. Speaking as a "man from the pews" Frank Skinner said he wanted the priest to be holy, "a little nearer the light"; that meant having time to read and pray, and being radically available to others, and therefore celibate. He said he was in favour of women priests, but thought they, too, should be celibate.  Kennedy said holiness wasn't gendered. Jack Valero said holiness, not priesthood, was the objective, and that holiness was available equally to lay people; but the priest's way was through celibacy. Fr Stephen Wang laid out practical benefits of the celibate priesthood, but said these were less important than having an "undivided heart".

Many people spoke from the floor, but it was clear the audience was overwhelmingly stacked against the motion. A vote was taken, which overwhelmingly reflected the bias. Skinner asked if anyone had changed their mind as result of listening to the speeches; only one had.

It was not clear if the Universe believed its money was well spent.

Tina Beattie's account of the debate is here

The Tatchell rant

is here. CV Fiona O'Reilly (photo) was cool and calm in the face of intense provocation. Two CVs write critiques for MercatorNet: Madeleine Teahan's is here and Chris Morgan's here.

Panorama: what the Pope knew

Monday night's Panorama investigating what Pope Benedict XVI knew about clerical sex abuse -- and what he did or did not do about it -- is here. CV coordinator Austen Ivereigh (photo) appears in the programme briefly twice. 'What the Pope knew' was due to have been shown in June, but because it failed to uncover a "smoking gun" was scheduled close to the papal visit instead. It is a well-made, thorough programme, which asks hard-hitting questions -- but never manages to pin anything substantial on Benedict XVI, while listing at the end the ways in which he has pioneered recent reforms.

Anti-celibacy debate: What is the Universe up to?

Monitor was last night at the Odeon in Leicester Square, where a mediocre film making the case against mandatory priestly celibacy was screened, followed by a debate where its director, John Deery, teamed up with Baroness Helena Kennedy and the theologian Tina Beattie to argue that priestly celibacy is oppressive, pagan, and a cause of the clerical sex abuse crisis. Opposing them were Bishop Malcolm McMahon of Nottingham, the comedian Frank Skinner, and two CVs: the project's chaplain, Fr Stephen Wang, and its coordinator, Jack Valero.

Conspiracy of Silence, says its makers, 
"highlights the Church’s present-day dilemma on its doctrine on celibacy .... [the film] is a provocative, timely and controversial drama that exposes the human impact of breaking the vow of celibacy – an issue the Catholic Church remains reluctant to address... It is also our intention to create a forum for an open debate on the issues of celibacy and sexuality and the impact this has on individuals, both in the Catholic Church and the wider Catholic community."
Amazingly,the evening was sponsored by the Catholic weekly The Universe (there were free copies on every seat) as well as the Irish Post and a Christian dating agency.

There does seem something strange about a Catholic newspaper funding a debate whose organisers are campaigning against mandatory celibacy. Perhaps The Universe believes that the Catholic priesthood in the Latin Church should no longer be compulsorily celibate.  But should it not say so -- in an editorial, perhaps?

What it does say in this week's editorial is that Catholic Voices for Reform -- the group set up in opposition to Catholic Voices -- "want to see huge changes in in the Church on issues such as clerical celibacy and the ordination of women". These reforms, the editorial notes reprovingly, "are pretty much non-negotiable from the hierarchy's point of view". Indeed. So why sponsor a debate which opens up one of these "non-negotiables"? All very confusing.

The editorial ends by urging Catholic Voices to "avoid at all costs a mixed message", which is sound counsel. Perhaps the Universe should heed it.

Attendance at papal events

CV Ella Leonard contributes to this piece by BBC 'Midlands Today'.

Pope's visit 'punctual and provident'

Says CV Madeleine Teahan (photo) on the Reuters blog. Terry Sanderson of the NSS puts the other view.

How the new atheists are abusing the truth

Another robust critique from Brendan O'Neill in Spiked.

CV 'atheist revert' debates leading humanist

CV Peter Williams (photo) debates the motion, 'Is the Catholic Church a force for good?', on Premier Radio. Putting the opposing case: Andrew Copson, director of the British Humanist Association. Lengthy, but definitely high-fibre.

Robertson responds to Ivereigh

Geoffrey Robertson QC has responded to CV coordinator Austen Ivereigh's earlier piece in the Guardian's Comment is Free. He begins by seeking to discredit Ivereigh by saying "he is not a dispassionate commentator but a prolific propagandist for the papal cause". But Robertson could equally be described as a prolific propagandist for the secularist cause. Monitor is not sure where that gets us. But "Ivereigh is not a lawyer", Robertson points out, and therefore disqualified on such weighty matters as whether the Vatican is a true state. Whether Robertson has answered Ivereigh's central critique, rather than merely dismiss his qualifications to challenge the eminent barrister's assertions, Monitor leaves for others to decide.

CV priests advocate celibacy on Sky News

Two CV priests have beenafter contributing to Sky's discussion of priestly celibacy. Fr Stephen Wang, CV chaplain, contributed to this very interesting report, which includes a former Anglican married Catholic priest explaining how difficult it is to be a priest without being celibate. while this morning, on Sky News after 0810, CV Fr Paul Keane (photo) defended the gift of celibacy in an excellent discussion with Ruth Gledhill, Times religious correspondent.

Papal events tickets 'unsold'

Thousands of tickets for papal events remain unsold, according to a report the BBC is running.

Robert Pigott, BBC religious affairs correspondent, says that "the relatively slow uptake of passes for the big events appears to indicate less enthusiasm among Catholics to see Pope Benedict than they showed for his charismatic predecessor John Paul II 28 years ago."

There may be some truth to that. But the main reason is the logistical challenge -- allocating tickets to pilgrims via dioceses and parishes, ensuring that supply matches demand, is no small feat, especially in the small time the Church has had (because of delays in fixing the venues, due in part to the election campaign and change in government) to organise it. In 1982, people could just turn up; this time, they have to go in coaches or as part of named groups.

The BBC is reporting Bellahouston Park has been reduced from 100,000 to 80,000. The Guardian is quoting a "church spokesman" who "said only they hoped "tens of thousands" would turn out, and admitted it depended very heavily on the weather."

CV coordinator Jack Valero -- who has been on BBC Radio West Midlands and BBC Radio Coventry this morning -- says that Cofton Park (photo) will be 50,000 rather than 60,000.

But the report does not say that Hyde Park -- which doesn't require coaches and crack-of-dawn coach journeys -- will be full to bursting.

Polly Toynbee's humanist manifesto

The president of the British Humanist Association takes to her Guardian platform again to issue a ringing manifesto for the humanist cause. It has a certain poetry to it, the rythmn of a stump speech. And it is, of course, quite barmy. Some of the "shots" -- over Aids/ condoms, for example -- are even cheaper when you consider that she chaired the Catholic Voices v Protest the Pope debate, and heard about the rates of effectiveness of condoms-based campaigns in Africa and the need to address other, deeper causes of the spread of the virus. The statistics and the argument may not have convinced her; but surely she should have acknowledged that a coherent answer did exist, rather than the one she chooses to parody? But that might have spoiled the rhetorical cadence. So it's a triumph, really, of rhetoric over reason.