Friday, 17 September 2010

William Johnstone on APF

Anglican convert and Catholic Voice William Johnstone appears in this APF video story on Anglican-Catholic relations.

Was Toynbee listening?

The Guardian columnist and humanist supremo writes critically about the Pope's Westminster Hall address, noting:

Were Pope Benedict and all the other religions to devote themselves single-mindedly to social injustice, they would command immense moral authority that would silence any quibbles from non-believers.
How odd, because one of the most remarkable elements in the Westminster Hall address was the Pope's defence of the world's poor. As John Allen comments:
Benedict laid out a laundry list of issues where church and state can work together: curbing the arms trade, spreading democracy, debt relief, fair trade and development, environmental protection, clean water, job creation, education, support to families, immigration, and healthcare.

Defense of the world's poor was a special emphasis, and Benedict used sharp language to drive home the point. "The world has witnessed the vast resources that governments can draw upon to rescue financial institutions deemed 'too big to fail,'" the pope said. "Surely the integral human development of the world's peoples is no less important."

"Here is an enterprise," he said, "worthy of the world's attention, that is truly 'too big to fail.'"

John Allen: PR tide turning in Pope's direction

If Benedict doesn’t seem to be winning over his most determined critics, there is some evidence that the PR tide may be turning in his favour. Today, Labor MP Kate Hoey, a liberal who disagrees with the Catholic church on a wide variety of issues, announced that she was fed up with “carping about the trip from atheists with an axe to grind and a book to plug,” and would therefore join a welcoming party for the pope when he visits a center run by the Little Sisters of the Poor in her south London district.

Beyond giving a shot in the arm to the Catholic minority in the U.K., Benedict is trying to reach out this week to three constituencies: all those inside and outside the church scandalized by the sexual abuse crisis; secular society, whose attitudes towards religion range from benign indifference to outright hostility; and the Anglican Communion, whose members often look upon popes generally, and this pope in particular, with deep skepticism.

Pope Benedict and Archbishop Williams: joint communique

Friday 17 September, Lambeth Palace

Fifty years after the first meeting of a Pope and an Archbishop of Canterbury in modern times – that of Pope John XXIII and Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher, in December 1960 – Pope Benedict XVI paid a fraternal visit to Archbishop Rowan Williams.

In the first part of their meeting they both addressed the Anglican and Roman Catholic Diocesan Bishops of England, Scotland and Wales, in the Great Hall of the Archbishop’s Library, before moving to a private meeting.

In the course of their private conversation, they addressed many of the issues of mutual concern to Anglicans and Roman Catholics. They affirmed the need to proclaim the Gospel message of salvation in Jesus Christ, both in a reasoned and convincing way in the contemporary context of profound cultural and social transformation, and in lives of holiness and transparency to God. They agreed on the importance of improving ecumenical relations and continuing theological dialogue in the face of new challenges to unity from within the Christian community and beyond it.

The Holy Father and the Archbishop reaffirmed the importance of continuing theological dialogue on the notion of the Church as communion, local and universal, and the implications of this concept for the discernment of ethical teaching.

They reflected together on the serious and difficult situation of Christians in the Middle East, and called upon all Christians to pray for their brothers and sisters and support their continued peaceful witness in the Holy Land. In the light of their recent public interventions, they also discussed the need to promote a courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace, especially the needs of the poor, urging international leadership to fight hunger and disease.

Following their meeting they travelled together to the Palace of Westminster and to Evening Prayer at Westminster Abbey.

Andrew Brown: the end of the Protestant state

Writing in the Guardian:
This was the end of the British Empire. In all the four centuries from Elizabeth I to Elizabeth II, England has been defined as a Protestant nation. The Catholics were the Other; sometimes violent terrorists and rebels, sometimes merely dirty immigrants. The sense that this was a nation specially blessed by God arose from a deeply anti-Catholic reading of the Bible. Yet it was central to English self-understanding when Queen Elizabeth II was crowned in 1952, and swore to uphold the Protestant religion by law established.

For all of those 400 or so years it would have been unthinkable that a pope should stand in Westminster Hall and praise Sir Thomas More, who died to defend the pope's sovereignty against the king's. Rebellion against the pope was the foundational act of English power. And now the power is gone, and perhaps the rebellion has gone, too. Perhaps, though, it has not. First there was Rowan Williams, making the point that when the Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops of England mingled in Lambeth Palace, all alike were bishops. This the pope, of course, denies. Then there is our stubborn attachment to the notion that all you really need is decency, rather than theology. This, too, the pope denies, and the section of his speech dealing with that was the most interesting part. "If moral principles underpinning the democratic process are themselves determined by nothing more solid than social consensus, then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident – herein lies the real challenge for democracy."

Pope in Westminster: do not marginalize faith

From CV coordinator Austen Ivereigh, writing at America magazine.

I've just come out from Pope Benedict XVI's address to "representatives of civil society" in Parliament's Westminster Hall, feeling like I've witnessed a genuine historical moment. The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, told the Pope that "what was once thought inconceivable seems now natural", citing the fate of his 153rd predecessor as chair, St Thomas More, who was sentenced to death in the sixteenth century for refusing to accept the King as head of the Church. Bercow also mentioned a discussion that took place in Westminster Hall in 1374 between a Franciscan, a Dominican and a Benedictine, on the proper relations between the papacy and the temporal power. "They didn't reach agreement", he noted, but said it was right to continue to ask the question.

The setting - Westminster Hall is the oldest room of its kind in Europe, dating from the eleventh century -- was imposing, but a Band of the Coldstream Guards and an parade of Yeoman of the Guard, who stood against the ancient windows above the dais, added pageantry and fanfare. The Catholic Church, it is often said, knows how to put on a good show. The British state did well today.

It started 40 minutes late, which meant that the cream of the British political and civil establishment -- including a row of prime ministers: Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, John Major, Margaret Thatcher (now very wobbly) -- had to sit waiting patiently until the successor of St Peter arrived. That, in itself, was rather extraordinary -- a nightmare scene for secularists -- but even more extraordinary was what followed when he finally arrived, flanked by the Archbishop of Canterbury: a massive round of applause.

The event itself turned out to in many ways more important than what the Pope said -- not because it wasn't, as promised, a powerful address, but because it was at times hard to hear, short, and probably flew considerably above the heads of many there. The power of the moment lay in the setting, and the way centuries of often vexed relations between the papacy and the English temporal power seemed distilled into those few minutes.

Pope Benedict recalled Thomas More, his integrity in following his conscience at great personal cost -- a theme he will take up again on Sunday, during the Mass for the Beatification of Cardinal Newman -- and the way in which the dilemma he faced raised "the perennial question of the relationship between what is owed to Caesar and what is owed to God". This question, he said, offered him the opportunity to relect on the proper place of religious belief within the political process.

The rest was, perhaps, one of the most cogent arguments ever made in such a short speech in favour of politics and religion remaining intertwined. Here are some of the gems:

"If the moral principles underpinning the democratic process are themselves determined by nothing more solid than social consensus, then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident; herein the real challenge for democracy".

Policy has an ethical dimension -- as Parliament's great achievements, such as the abolition of the slave trade, have shown.

In determining the ethical framework for political choices, the role of religion is to "purify and shed light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles". Religion is distorted when "insufficient attention is given to the purifying and structuring role of reason within religion". In other words, they need each other.

Religion "is not a problem for legislators to solve, but a vital contributor to the national conversation". Hence, he went on, "I cannot but voice my concern at the increasing marginalization of religion, particularly of Christianity, that is taking place in some quarters."

There are "worrying signs of a failure to appreciate not only the right of believers to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, but also the legitimate role of religion in the public square."

For there to be continued cooperation between faith and policy, "religious bodies -- including institutions linked to the Catholic Church -- need to be free to act in accordance with their own principles and specific convictions based upon the faith and the official teaching of the Church." In this way, he said, rights such as freedom of religion, freedom of conscience and freedom of association are guaranteed.

He ended by reminding his listeners of the angel carvings above our heads. "They remind us that God is constantly watching over us to guide and protect us. And they summon us to acknowledge the vital contribution that religious belief has made and can continue to make to the life of the nation."

From Westminster Hall, Pope Benedict went on to Westminster Abbey, to pray for unity with the Archbishop of Canterbury. More on that tomorrow.

CNS on Catholic Voices

The news service of the US bishops' conference, Catholic News Service, on Catholic Voices, written by its highly-respected Rome correspondent, Cindy Wooden:

During Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Great Britain, it was difficult to turn on the television without seeing a youngish, articulate lay Catholic defending church teaching.

          Although members of the pool of 21 speakers have studied the church's position on hot-button issues and have been trained in the art of keeping a cool head under the fire of a revved-up interviewer, the church defenders are all volunteers.

          The men and women -- including a lawyer, teachers, a full-time mom and one priest -- are the frontline of an organization called "Catholic Voices," which was founded in February.

          With a budget of about $78,000, the group's three coordinators recruited and trained the 21 speakers, bringing in experts to speak about church teaching on topics ranging from homosexuality to the ordination of women and hiring a studio and professional television interviewers so the speakers could hone their skills.

          Poppy MacDonald, a 24-year-old commodities buyer for an aerospace company, said the training was "massively helpful."

          As part of her tryout for the team, she was given a test question about Catholic teaching on AIDS and condoms and, after reading and preparing, she said, "I tried to say as much as possible. But then in the training, they help you see that you need to focus on the three things you want to get across" rather than racing the clock to say as much as possible about a subject.

          While some have referred to Catholic Voices as "Catholic spin doctors," MacDonald said, "We're not trying to put any spin on what the church teaches."

          "We don't go on the air preaching chapter and verse from the catechism or the Bible, but we try to challenge or correct misunderstandings about church teaching," she said.

          The training, she said, was "a wonderful opportunity to learn how to speak about your faith in a way that's accessible."

          Austen Ivereigh, one of the founders and coordinators of the group, said the 21 speakers would give similar answers to questions about the key controversial issues since they all attended the same briefings, "but they haven't been programmed, so the responses depend on them first of all."

          Catholic Voices, which does not speak for the church officially, chose as team members only involved Catholics who accept church teaching, because with the approach of the papal visit "we didn't have time for debates," Ivereigh said.

          "The lovely, lovely thing is the generosity" of the speakers who gave up their free time twice a month for training sessions, and who basically lived out of the papal visit press center while Pope Benedict was in Great Britain Sept. 16-19.

          The members of Catholic Voices, he said, were "all frustrated by how the church was being presented in the media" before the papal visit.

          Ivereigh and MacDonald said much of the bad coverage seemed to be the result of simple ignorance about what the church really teaches on a given subject.

          The speakers may face a hostile grilling when they speak, but a key part of the training is to respond calmly with the truth, Ivereigh said.

          "When you are up against harsh criticism, the critic usually has a value to defend and often it's a shared value," he said, like when someone attacks the church's teaching on the all-male priesthood, emphasizing the dignity of women. The church teaches that its practice is based on the example of Jesus, who chose only men as his disciples, and does not imply less respect for women.

          "Often the confusion arises because the church has put it across badly," Ivereigh said.

B16 in Twickenham: remember the bigger picture

CV coordinator Austen Ivereigh writes at America magazine:

Pope Benedict's UK campaign against secularism has continued this morning at a Catholic university college in south-west London, where he has given three addresses which amplified the clear theme of this visit -- that pluralism depends on opening up to faith.

The first speech this morning, delivered in the chapel of St Mary's College, Twickenham, was to religious men and women involved in education, had some powerful messages for secularists who resent the popularity of Britain's 2,300 Catholic schools and argue that the tayxpayer should not fund them. (The Labour government tried some years ago to impose quotas of non-Catholics to appease the critics of Catholic school "segregation"; after MPs were bombarded with letters, the Government backed down, after witnessing the formidable loyalty which church schools inspire.) Since the Butler Act of 1944, Catholic schools became part of the state system; Church and state agreed to co-fund the schools: the Church contributes around £20m a year to the capital costs of the schools, which educate around 800,000 pupils.

Catholic schools are not under threat -- and even less under this new Government. But state-funded Catholic schools are of the faultlines in the secularist-Christian confrontation, and the Pope's first address had some pointed messages for their opponents.

He recalled the contribution of monastics to Catholic education in Britain. "Often you laid the foundations of educational provision long before the State assumed a responsibility for the this vital service", he said. In other words: the Church was educating long before the state became involved; and remember that it is civil society, not the state, which educates (even if the state regulates).

The presence of religious in Catholic schools, he went on, "is a powerful reminder of the much-discussed Catholic ethos that needs to inform every aspect of school life. This extends far beyond the self-evident requirement that the content of the teaching should be always in conformity with Church doctrine. It means that the life of faith needs to be the driving force behind every activity in the school, so that the Church's mission may be served effectively, and the young people may discover the joy of entering into Christ's 'being for others' (Spe Salvi, 28".

In other words: the Catholic ethos behind Catholic schools is what makes them popular. You can't have the fruits without the roots.

He concluded with an oblique reference to clerical sex abuse, which of course has affected schools -- all the more apposite because outside St Mary's College angry protesters were earlier gathering. (And the BBC's editorial line has been to point out that this morning's event would remind victims of the abuse they had suffered). "The life of faith can only be effectively nurtured when the prevailing atmosphere is one of respectful and affectionate trust", he said, thanking those who worked to ensure a environment for children and young people."

Then he came out into the sports arena for an hour-long event in front of 4,000 delilghted young children and teachers which was connected over the web to the nation's schools and many abroad in what was possibly the largest school assembly in history.

There he invited them to become saints -- to "put our deepest hopes in God alone" for "only He can satisfy the deepest needs of our hearts" -- before three times mentioning the "bigger picture". In Catholic schools, he said, there was always "a bigger picture over and above the individual subjects you study"; and he asked them to keep in mind that while specializing in subjects was right and proper, they should remember that every subject "is part of a bigger picture". If they hadn't got the point, he warned them: "Never allow yourselves to become narrow". And he added: "We need good historians and philosophers and economists, but if the account they give of human life within their particular field is too narrowly focussed, they can lead us seriously astray". Catholic education was about "the whole person"; and, if they hadn't got the point, he returned -- like a good teacher -- to stress the point again: "You are a reminder ... of the bigger picture which exists outside the school".

The message was for young people -- but also another salvo against secularism. Remove faith from schools, he was saying, and you shrink education, dehumanise it, destroy its deeper purpose.

His third address, to faith leaders in the historic Drawing Room of the College, laid it out again:
"Your presence and witness in the world points towards the fundamental importance for human life of this spiritual quest in which we are engaged," he told them. Academic disciplines "do not and cannot answer the fundamental question ... They cannot satisfy the deepest longings of the human heart, they cannot fully explain to us our origin and our destiny, why and for what purpose we exist, nor indeed can they provide us with an exhaustive answer to the question, 'Why is there something rather than nothing?'"

This was a message to those who, like Stephen Hawking, believe there is no need for God in a scientific explanation of the universe, or who, like Richard Dawkin, believe that religion is immoral for undermining science.

And he made a powerful case for the point of faith, pointing out the failure of utilitarianism and empiricism as a guide to good living.

Genuine religious belief, he said, ""points us beyond present utility towards the transcendent. It reminds us of the possibility and the imperative of moral conversion, of the duty to live peaceably with our neighbour, of the importance of living a life of integrity." Properly understood, he went on, "it brings enlightenment, it purifies our hearts and it inspires noble and generous action, to the benefit of the entire human family", motivating virtue and enabling us "to reach out towards one another in love".

Later, Fr Federico Lombardi, the Pope's spokesman, told journalists "to pay very careful attention" to what Pope Benedict is to say in just a couple of hours to 1,000 civic leaders in Parliament. Nobody doubts this will be the heart of his argument against European secularism.