Wednesday, 15 September 2010

CVs on Premier Radio

Here you can find CVs contributing to discussions on a variety of topics: Fr Paul Keane on celibacy, Peter D Williams on the Church as a force for good, and Fiona O'Reilly on Catholic charismatic prayer.

Bishops' conference distants itself from Cardinal Kasper remarks

Cardinal Walter Kasper is in hot water after describing Britain as a "third-world country" where an "agressive new atheism" is rife. (The second remark doesn't seem so controversial). He is not coming with the Pope -- because of gout, the Vatican says. Cardinal Kasper has long been the point man for relations with Anglicans, and will be missed -- but not by Damian Thompson, who thinks it "ironic that the Cardinal should get into trouble for the first sensible thing he’s said in years."

The bishops' conference of England and Wales, who didn't think the remarks were sensible, said:

“The attributed comments of Cardinal Kasper do not represent the views of the Vatican, nor those of bishops in this country.  Clearly, they are the personal views of one individual.  Catholics play a full part in this country’s life and welcome the rich diversity of thought, culture and people which is so evident here.  This historic visit marks a further development of the good relationship between the United Kingdom and the Holy See. We are confident that it will be a huge success.”

Pope 'a force for good' -- Evening Standard

Bravo Anne McElvoy. Her piece has gems like this: 

Those who “call on the Pope to quit” combine absurdity with ignorance. It is not like asking the head of Channel 4 or Coca-Cola to step aside.

The point of the Pope is precisely that he doesn't quit. He's an inheritor of the tradition on which the Church is founded, not a temporal appointment to be toppled by a phone-in vote.

Mr Tatchell thinks the Pope is “out of step with British Catholics” and I dare says he is on any number of fronts.
The point of Rome isn't to be “in step” with public opinion in any one place or time. It is to try to transcend it, and to defend some beliefs which can be a guide to life across eras and fashions. In short, it does precisely what the rest of the modern world doesn't do.

How many Catholics in Britain?

Hurrah for the BBC -- a superbly comprehensive briefing (complete with tables)on the Catholic population in Britain, including numbers of Massgoers.

Of 41m Christians in Britain, some 5m claim to be Catholic, or one in 12 of the general population.

But these figures are based on the 2001 census, since when, according to the Christian Research Group, numbers have "stabilised" -- but the BBC doesn't give the new figure for numbers of Catholics, which Monitor understands to be considerably more, because of the influx of the foreign-born.

Practising Catholics number about one million -- more than practising Anglicans.

Interestingly, says the report,

Figures gathered by the National Centre for Social Research show that membership of most religions is lower now than it was 30 years ago, with a marked decline appearing among people who say they belong to the Church of England from 40 to 20%.By comparison, the numbers of those claiming to be Catholic has remained fairly stable, dropping only 1% from 10 to 9% since 1983.
As for the country as a whole,

The number of people of all faiths attending church services appears to be at a low ebb, with 58% of those polled saying they never attend services.
Still, that's more than 40% who do attend services sometimes. Not quite the "secular wasteland" that some have supposed -- or which the National Secular Society would like to see.

The NSS, notes the BBC, "feels any boost in numbers will be shortlived." But this shouldn't really be a matter of feeling, should it?

What is Sir Geoffrey afraid of, exactly?

Followers of this blog will know that Geoffrey Robertson QC's broadsides against the Church in the promotion of his book, The Case of the Pope, have met with a robust response from CV coordinator Austen Ivereigh, most recently in the Guardian here.

Robertson was so furious at the latter, that he shouted down the phone at the Guardian CiF editors and demanded a response -- which we reported here.

This morning Ivereigh was scheduled to debate with Robertson on Sky News; but Sir Geoffrey pulled out, Sky News told us, because he "refused" to debate with him (Ivereigh went up against a human rights lawyer instead).

This afternoon, Al Jazeera called to ask if Ivereigh could debate Robertson tomorrow afternoon for half an hour on air. Ivereigh accepted. Al Jazeera told Robertson. Robertson told Al Jazeera that he would debate with anybody from Catholic Voices "except Austen Ivereigh".

CV's approach to the media is to be willing to debate with anyone at anytime, but we think it wrong that Robertson -- who should surely be prepared to argue with his critics -- can exercise a veto in this way. So we insisted it be Ivereigh. "Well, I fear that's that then," Al Jazeera told us.

All of which raises the question, what exactly is Sir Geoffrey afraid of? What intimates the great barrister? Perhaps we shall never know.

Church as 'a safe place for children'

CV chaplain Fr Stephen Wang tells ITN News (watch here) that the safeguarding rules of the Church in England and Wales are some of the strictest and most thorough of any institutions. "The Church is a safe place and things have been put right."

A notable letter

Monitor is admiring of the devastating logic demonstrated by Dr Malcolm Brown (photo), the Church of England's Director of Mission and Public Affairs, who in a letter to the Guardian in response to Polly Toynbee's humanist manifesto writes:

The premise of Ben Goldacre's splendid Bad Science column  is that science's centrality to the good of humanity must be upheld by exposing its misuse by those ignorant of scientific principles and its hijacking by commercial or vested interests.

The premise of Polly Toynbee's endless tirades against religion (Sex and death lie at the poisoned heart of religion, 14 September) is that religious belief is, always and everywhere, invalidated by instances of abuse and sectional interest and that ignorance of religion's importance in innumerable human lives is a virtue. The perversion of religion is as undeniable as the perversion of science, but Toynbee's logic contradicts Goldacre's.

When do you intend to start running a Bad Religion column which will analyse the abuse of faith for political, sectional or sexual advantage on the premise that religion is a human good which should be strengthened by exposing those who pervert faith for their own interests? Your extensive readership among believers would love to read it, and the secularists might enjoy the stories too.

The Da Vinci Code myth of "secret Vatican files"

A peculiar narrative has taken hold of the Church's critics over abuse. It's hard to know where it originates, but Monitor has heard it from the lips of Peter Tatchell and Geoffrey Robertson. Now that it has taken root as a "media myth", it is being endlessly repeated.

The allegation is that there are "secret files" on abusive priests held in the Vatican, which the Vatican is "refusing to hand over".

It was loudly asserted, for example, by a human rights lawyer debating with CV coordinator Austen Ivereigh this morning on Sky News (photo).

And here's Peter Saunders, an abuse survivor, telling a press conference today: "We need the pope to say, 'I will hand over all the information I have about abusing priests wherever they are in the world. I will hand it over to the authorities of the countries where these people are being protected.'"

What on earth are they talking about? The files on abusive priests copied to the Vatican after 2001 (following Pope John Paul II's motu propio of that year) are diocesan files, subject to the local civil law of the country where the diocese is present. Should the courts demand that the files be handed over -- as happened, for example, in Boston  -- they need only ask the local bishop. The files in the CDF are reviewed (currently by Mgr Charles Scicluna) to ensure that, following credible allegations of abuse, the appropriate action, canonical and civil, has been taken. Their existence in the Vatican is not a substitute for action by the local bishop; it is to ensure compliance with the various laws, local and canonical, that are relevant to abusive priests. It was a measure designed to prevent cover-up by putting salt on the tails of feet-dragging bishops. 

The remarkable thing about this accusation is that nowhere is there a single press report of a police force of a country asking the Vatican for these files, let alone of such a request being frustrated. It would be rather a big story if it happened. If it isn't a story anywhere, it hasn't happened. And why would it? The only "Vatican" files are on "Vatican" priests -- and no one is claiming that sex abuse of minors is happening in the Vatican and not being dealt with.

But of one thing you can be sure: this myth will now harden into solemn fact through endless, mindless repetition. As we know from combatting the Da Vinci Code myths, this one, like that of UFOs, or sightings of Elvis, is in practice very hard to refute.You cannot demonstrate the non-existence of what does not exist.

Inside the popemobile

The Daily Mail offers more information than people might possibly need about the "Holy Merc" that will transport the Holy Father tomorrow.

And who's that peering in? Why none other than CV chaplain Fr Stephen Wang -- taken just hours before last night's celibacy debate.

Monitor can add one nugget which the Mail missed. The numberplate, SCV1, stands for "Stato della Citta del Vaticano" -- Vatican City State. But cynical Romans say it really stands for "Se Cristo vedesse" -- "if only Christ could see".

Papal event ticket 'chaos': the background

CV coordinator Austen Ivereigh explains some of the logistical challenges on BBC News24.

Abbey illuminated

Monitor apologises for a previous post (now removed) announcing that this Saturday various public buildings would be illuminated with pope visit themes. In fact, it happened last night. Here's what the Abbey looked like.

William Oddie on Catholic Voices

The former editor of the Catholic Herald writes about CV here.

I know nothing of the origins of this outfit: I came across it first on Sunday, when as a result of attempting to defend on Radio 5 Live ... the practice of clerical celibacy in the teeth of a BBC poll of British Catholics which purported to show them considerably more against it than for it, I was asked two hours later if I would go immediately to a BBC TV studio to talk about the same thing on the BBC News channel. As this would have meant missing either Mass or Sunday lunch with my family or both I said no.

An hour later, as I preparing to leave the house to go to Church, I turned on the TV to see if they’d got someone else already, and they had: a young woman from Catholic Voices (whose name I missed), personable, well informed, competent, agreeable in manner, persuasive, who kept her calm admirably in the face of aggressive questioning and who won from the interviewer the closing accolade: “Thank you. That was very interesting.” It was a splendid performance, and probably better than anything I would have been able to pull off.
Their website is also indispensable. It tells me for instance (I wish I had known this on Sunday) that the poll on which I had to comment for BBC 5 Live (like a later poll for ITV, also showing a substantial rejection of papal teachings) had ignored a crucial distinction between practising and non-practising Catholics.