Friday, 24 September 2010

Christians must fight for their place in society

The director of the Iona Institute, David Quinn, writing in the Irish Independent about the Pope's UK visit:

Benedict spoke of a growing threat to freedom of religion and freedom of conscience and, in Scotland the previous day, of "aggressive forms of secularism" and the "dictatorship of relativism".

Bizarrely, there are people who doubt that aggressive secularism even exists, who deny that the rights of religious believers are under increasing assault in Western societies. But if Richard Dawkins and company are not examples of aggressive secularism then what is?

And if the forced closure of Catholic adoption agencies in the UK and elsewhere because they want children to be adopted by married, opposite-sex couples isn't an example of a direct attack on the rights of religious organisations, then nothing is.

In some parts of the US, Christian nurses have been fired for not performing abortions. In Sweden, you must be willing to perform an abortion if you work in a public hospital. Pharmacists are increasingly being forced to dispense the morning-after-pill (an abortifacient), regardless of their convictions.

In Britain, a nurse was suspended from work for offering to pray for a patient. Christians have been investigated by police for "hate crimes" after handing out literature deemed "offensive" to minorities. In Ireland, a Catholic infertility doctor was recently investigated on a professional misconduct charge because he would only treat married couples.

Also, the Government and opposition parties refused to add a conscience clause to the Civil Partnership Bill, a true example of the "dictatorship of relativism" which insists that no distinction can be made between one "lifestyle choice" and another, and that those who make such distinctions must be penalised.

The most obvious impact of the Pope's visit to Britain was its success as a public spectacle. But he also had a message, and his message was that Christians have to start fighting back against attempts to drive them from public life and deprive them of their legitimate rights.

The visit will have been a real success only if Christians begin to take up that fight. If not, then one day they will wake up and discover that they have been reduced to second-class citizenship.

John Allen on the hope the papal visit brings

The veteran Rome-watcher John Allen gives an upbeat assessment of the success of Pope Benedict's UK visit, from which he draws "two rays of hope":
First, even in what appear to be thoroughly secularized societies, the religious instinct has hardly been extinguished. Benedict’s crowds exceeded expectations, buoyed by substantial Catholic turnout. What was most fascinating, however, was the appeal of the trip to other Christians, members of other religions, and ordinary secular folk who still somehow feel the tug of faith.

Aside from the activists who have a specific beef with the pope, most people seemed curious about what Benedict was saying and doing, and also genuinely impressed with the sincerity and good will of the throngs of pilgrims they saw over these four days. (As a footnote, one of the fruits of a papal visit is that ordinary believers have the chance to tell their stories to a national audience.)

Benedict did not magically refill the churches or win waves of converts, but the largely favorable interest in religion his presence stimulated offered a reminder that many people, even in the heart of the secular world, do still want to believe – even if, as sociologist Grace Davies has put it, they find it much tougher to belong.

Second, the trip was a reminder that when wielded wisely, the papacy is still a unique bully pulpit, the single greatest asset Catholicism has in shaping public debate. It’s difficult to imagine any other figure on the planet who could have come to Great Britain and led a four-day national examination of conscience about the role of religion in public life like Benedict XVI did.

In part, the reason Benedict was able to pull it off was because he gave those prepared to dismiss him no excuse to do so. He did not ride into town breathing fire about the equality laws, abortion, gay marriage, or any of the other fronts in the culture wars. Instead, he went to the foundations of the issue -- the right of citizenship of people of faith in a secular culture that prizes tolerance, and the positive contribution believers can make to common humanitarian and social concerns.

Put that way, it was virtually impossible to paint the pope as an extremist, and it made Dawkins’ claim that Benedict is an “enemy of humanity” seem faintly ridiculous. In effect, Benedict’s U.K. trip offered a model of how religious leaders can successfully engage secular conversation, through the template of “affirmative orthodoxy” -- no compromise on church teaching, but phrased in terms of what the church says “yes” to, rather than its well-known catalogue of “no’s.”

This was Benedict’s 17th foreign trip, and many of them have left behind the same kind of warm afterglow, only to be quickly swamped by some new crisis or PR meltdown in Rome. One can only hope that in this case, the past is not prologue.

Chaplin responds to secularist manifesto

Dr Jonathan Chaplin (photo), Director of the Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics, has spotted the lack of pluralism in Evan Harris's "secularist manifesto". 
First, it proposes a restrictive interpretation of the right to conscientious objection within the public sector, which would be limited to "rare and specific" exemptions agreed by parliament. His stance is in accord with the trend of recent employment tribunal and court decisions but it departs from the generous British tradition accommodating conscientious objection wherever possible.

Why, for example, must a marriage registrar be legally compelled to perform a same-sex civil partnership ceremony against her religious conscience when other colleagues are readily available to do so? Protecting conscience would not imply a "blanket religious exemption based on subjective feelings" but rather a better balancing of objective legal rights.

Second, it fails to recognise that an effective right to "manifest" belief is not only individual but organisational. For many religious believers, manifestation is a corporate not a solitary enterprise, coming to expression in a wide range of faith-based educational, welfare, charitable, publishing or campaigning associations. Some operate outside the public sector while others come within its purview either through historical incorporation by the state (eg church schools, religious hospitals) or through having entered into contracts with the state to pursue specific public purposes (eg faith-based social service agencies).
But Harris wants to impose severe legal restrictions on the ability of such religious organisations to act according to their distinctive religious beliefs the moment they enter the public sector, thereby frustrating the very reason for them existing as distinct bodies rather than mere replicas of secular agencies. For example, it could have the effect of coercing church schools into hiring staff who might repudiate the very religious beliefs or moral practices defining the school's distinct identity, or of preventing such schools from teaching RE from their own perspective.

Third, it elides the distinction between a separation of church and state and a separation of religion and state. The meaning of the first is plain enough but Harris is worryingly unclear about what he means by the second. Like many who call themselves secularists, he claims to be against "banning religion from the public square", yet the tenor of this and other public interventions suggest a desire to keep it on a tight leash.

The Pope and safeguarding

Eccleston Square has put out the following release in respect of the Pope's meeting with safeguarding officials -- which Monitor earlier reported on here

Interview with Bill Kilgallon (photo), Chair of the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission (NCSC)
 "When we knew that the Pope was visiting England and Wales, we suggested to him that he meet people who were involved in safeguarding within the Church because we knew that this was a high priority for him.
 The meeting took place at St Peter’s Residence, Vauxhall on Saturday 18 September.  It was attended by Archbishop Vincent Nichols; Cardinal Keith O’Brien, myself (Bill Kilgallon as Chair of the NCSC), a parish representative, a Diocesan Safeguarding Officer, the Chair of a Diocesan Commission, one of the Vice Chairs of the National Commission representing the Religious and the Director of the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service (CSAS) and two Safeguarding Representatives from Scotland.

Key points from the meeting with the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI:

Our approach in England and Wales is that safeguarding flows from the gospel.  A culture of safeguarding enables people to have a fulfilled life in Christ in the Church based on trust and that’s particularly important for children and for vulnerable adults.  We explained the system in England and Wales:

•    That each parish has a representative - a volunteer, a lay person - who takes responsibility for implementing safeguarding practice in the parish.
•    Within each diocese, there is a Safeguarding Officer - sometimes more than one - who is usually professionally qualified. Each diocese has a Safeguarding Commission made up of people drawn from relevant professions such as the police; the probation services, social services, health and the law.  The Commission has an Independent Chair. Religious Orders have similar structures.
 •    Nationally, we have the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission (NCSC) Commission with the job of setting the safeguarding policies of the Church and monitoring compliance. The Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service (CSAS) is the Church’s national office with people who are experts in safeguarding, training and development.
 •    In England and Wales, the policies and procedures apply to the whole Church, not just to the dioceses, but also to religious orders.  The NCSC is mandated by the Conference of Bishops and the Conference of Religious.  This is a very important feature of the approach that we take in England and Wales.  The presence of my colleague, Sr Jane Bertelsen FMDM, Vice Chair of NCSC at the meeting highlights the English and Welsh one Church approach.
 •    We report all allegations to the police or social services; depending on the nature of the allegations.  We work in co-operation with the statutory authorities throughout the procedure - this brings a clear element of independence into the whole process. 
 •    We invest time and energy in promoting safeguarding and training people. We have very robust selection processes to try and ensure that people who are working in the Church, whether in full-time ministry or as volunteers, are appropriately vetted before they work with children and with vulnerable adults.
The Pope spoke very warmly of the work that we are doing and he was very interested in our key principles:
•    Independence at every stage – involvement of independent people.
•    The bringing in of professional expertise.
•    Close co-operation with the police and statutory authorities.
He was extremely positive about the work that we are doing.

During the course of the Papal Visit, the Holy Father spoke three times about abuse within the Church:
•    In the plane to journalists
•    In his homily at the Westminster Cathedral Mass:
•    At Oscott College, in his final address to the Bishops of England, Scotland and Wales:

On each occasion, the Holy Father said that the Church must respond better to those who are victims of abuse - that is the challenge for the Church in England and Wales.  We’ve done well on the policies and procedures; we’ve done well on the structures that we’ve set up – although there is never any room for complacency because we always need a culture of vigilance - but we need to look for improvement in our response to survivors of abuse.  That’s a determination of our Commission to increase the dialogue with survivors; the conversation has already started, but it needs to receive more focus.

Next Steps
Our policies and procedures could not necessarily be transferred to other countries because the legal system is often very different. The principles which could be applied elsewhere are the partnerships with statutory authorities and the need for independent people being involved at every stage - this is a particular strength in England and Wales.  In many countries, these matters have been dealt with internally within the Church and that has led quite rightly to severe criticism; that the Church was not being open and was covering up and this angers people almost as much as the abuse.

The Holy Father met people who had experienced abuse and he heard from them directly about their experience and about the impact that it has had on their lives.  He thanked us for arranging that meeting and said that it had been a moving experience."
 The Pope's Address to Safeguarding Professionals is here.

Birmingham Three priest 'breaks his silence'

... is the odd title of a post by the Telegraph's Damian Thompson about an article by Fr Dermot Fenlon on Newman in Standpoint. Odd, because there was never any silence imposed on the three members of the Birmingham Oratory who were asked to leave it following internal disputes lasting years -- except in so far as they weren't allowed, like the other Oratorians, to discuss the Visitation which led to their removal. But they have always been quite free to speak and write about anything else -- not least Newman, as Fr Fenlon does, rather beautifully, in his article.

The really curious thing is why the Standpoint's editor, Daniel Johnson (photo), chose to insert into a box within the article a reprise by Ruth Dudley Edwards of the bizarre and entirely fictitious conspiracy theory -- scotched by the statements by two of the three in the fortnight before the papal visit -- that the removal of the Three was due to their "defence of traditional teachings on sexual morality, and their belief that Church should challenge State, that posed an unwelcome intellectual challenge to the Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, during his time as Archbishop of Birmingham." 

This nonsense was put out at length by Dudley Edwards in Standpoint the previous month, but dismissed by the Oratorians, rebutted in statements by two of the Three, and exposed as an urban myth. Why does Johnson give Dudley Edwards a platform to repeat it -- especially as it adds nothing to what she said before? Very curious.

Pope sets an example to non-believers

From the Catholic Herald editorial:

[T]he Pope set a further example to non-believers, of a great religious leader who radiated love, communicated by his winning little smile as well as by his words. From now on, militant secularists will find it very hard to sustain their odious caricature of Joseph Ratzinger: these were a terrible four days for anti-Catholicism.

The troubling authoritarianism of the No-Popers

The saintly Brendan O'Neill has fired another delicious salvo against the Nope Pope brigade -- this time landing wtih surgical precision on the deeply illiberal mindset which lurks within it. O'Neill, Monitor readers will not need reminding, is editor of the humanist magazine Spiked, and while disagreeing with the Pope, is deeply troubled by the totalitarian impulses of many of the secularists -- not least Terry Sanderson of the National Secular Society who called on the Pope to "get out" of Britain. Says O'Neill:

It was extraordinary stuff. Consider what is being said: that because the pope’s views run counter to the British state’s views, he has to leave the country. Because he does not support gay rights or women’s equality, he must go home. Partly this is a creepy echo of the old prejudice about Catholics not being sufficiently loyal to the state - but more fundamentally, it speaks to a serious warping of the liberal humanist outlook. If you had to distil the profound, historic tradition of liberal humanism into one principle, it would surely be that no one should be persecuted for having views that are the opposite of the state’s or of mainstream political thought. Yet here was a gathering of so-called humanists clamouring for the expulsion of the pope on the basis that he does not accept ‘British values’, as the QC Geoffrey Robertson described them on Saturday.
 But no snip can do it justice. Enjoy the whole.

British Catholicism an example of the Pope's 'creative minority'

The Tablet editorial on Hyde Park:

At the Hyde Park rally British Catholicism set out its stall, saying simply, “Here we are, this is what we do.” It displayed its diversity, its contributions to the common good through its care for disabled and elderly people and for the education and welfare for young people, its inclusive concern for immigrants, strangers and refugees, its commitment to international development and to protecting the environment. This is precisely what the Pope, writing as Cardinal Ratzinger, once called a “creative minority”; and it is, as Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks said afterwards, a display of post-Constantinian Catholicism that eschews political power in order to stand, as the prophets of old had stood, alongside the powerless.

3m watched papal visit online

says the organiser of the webstream at the official papal visit website.

Will the PM re-open the adoption agencies?

William Oddie is not holding his breath. But he thinks the Big Society vision means little if he doesn't.

'The Pope's intuitions were right on target'

The Tablet's Rome correspondent Robert Mickens records the journalists' fears about the trip on the papal plane to Britain; how they got it wrong -- and how the Pope's predictions were bang on.

Valero on Catholic Voices

CV coordinator Jack Valero has been interviewed by the Rome-based Catholic news service ZENIT.

I don't believe in [the] "anti-Catholicism" of the media. As I said, there is much religious ignorance and much indifference.

On the other hand, the media is interested in dramas and controversies, and not in happy stories: this is how they function. That is why the majority of religious news that appears has a negative context -- sexual or financial scandals, hypocrisy, etc.

In Catholic Voices, we have studied how to do a "re-framing" of news to speak of the subject in positive terms and hence communicate better the message of the Catholic Church, but without evading the question.

Thus, for example, with news about the abuse of minors, one must accept -- as the Pope does -- the culpability of not having dealt with the issue well in the past, but to speak also of the norms that the Church has here for the protection of minors, which are the best of any institution in Great Britain -- something that is recognized also by the government.

[W]hat we have learned in Catholic Voices is that it is the laity that can communicate the Catholic message better in the media. The laity are the ones who live and work together with all the rest, the ones who must pay the mortgage and take care of the sick baby at night. When they say things on television or radio, they connect easily with the public, and have the proper vocabulary to explain things well.

I think that in the future, the Church can make its message reach farther if training courses are established for the laity who have that facility to communicate. It could be said that we must discover in the Church the vocation of communicator.