Sunday, June 30, 2013

MPs' expenses: The Rule of Saint Nadine

From Brother Ivo:

Nadine Dorries is nothing if not an original member of Parliament; more Marmite than vanilla, and her colourful career has certainly taken an interesting turn with her decision to refuse to draw parliamentary expenses.

She will no doubt attract cynicism from her habitual detractors and not a little backbiting from those members of Parliament disinclined to follow her example. She has, however, added another provocation to her fellows by suggesting that our parliamentarians should follow the example of the Swedish Parliament and house themselves in state-owned appartment blocks in the vicinity of Westminster. She laments the lost opportunity of transforming the old County Hall for this purpose.

Brother Ivo recalls the late Alan Clark dismissing Michael Hesseltine as the kind of fellow who bought his own furniture. What he would have made of Mrs Dorries' Ikea youth hostel can only be imagined. An image was conjured up in Brother Ivo's mind - half Hogwarts; half Brian Rix farce. But then a more suitable model came to mind.

Why do we not go back to Parliament's Chapter House origins and thereby encourage a more reflective and sober approach in our legislators? Perhaps this is what Mrs Dorries has in mind .

To develop the idea further, Brother Ivo turned to the Rule of Saint Benedict which, though slim, is full of advice on how best to manage a community in order to foster a sense of earnestness and devotion, which is what the British public says it wants of its politicians.

The Saint is remarkably contemporary.

At the start of his Rule, Saint Benedict begins by dividing monks - as we might MPs - into four distinct and identifiable categories.

There are those who belong where they serve. Then those who have come through the test of longevity and passed beyond fervour and are 'ready, with God's help, to grapple singlehandedly with the vices of body and mind. Thirdly there are the 'most detestable kind...who, with no experience to guide them, no rule to guide them as gold is tried in a furnace, have a character as soft as lead... Their law is what they like to do whatever strikes their fancy'. Fourth and finally there are those 'who spend their entire lives staying as guests, drifting from region to region staying as guests for three or four days in different monasteries. Always on the move they never settle down and are slaves to their own appetites'.

For some strange reason the Michelin restaurants of Brussels came to Brother Ivo's mind as he typed that. Perhaps it is with the latter two categories in mind that much of what follows was written.

Brothers were to 'express themselves with all humility and not presume to defend their views with obstinacy'. We can all think of members of Parliament who might benefit from such advice, and John Bercow might appreciate the thought that 'so important is silence, that permission to speak should seldom be granted'.

To moderate excesses within this reformed House of Commons there is wise advice: 'We believe that half a bottle of wine is sufficient for each.' By way of contemporary update, Brother Ivo recalls that when the German Greens were first elected, they suggested that members should be breathalysed before entering the chamber on the basis that if one might not drive a Fiat 500 with alcohol in the system, perhaps one ought not to attempt to steer the Ship of State.

There is provision which might be usefully developed: 'If someone commits a fault whilst at work...(h)e must at once come before the Abbott and community and of his own accord, admit his fault and make satisfaction.' A positive duty for confession might be be a useful discipline for some of our more unruly legislators.

It would do no harm to remind our representatives that 'Idleness is the enemy of the soul' as they contemplate welfare reform. And, to preserve probity, an adaptation of the plainly-written rule - 'He must not presume to accept gifts even by his parents without telling the Abbott' - would avoid considerable doubt when dealing with lobbyists.

The more one studies this honourable text, the more incumbent it appears upon Mrs Dorries to develop a modern adaptation for the general improvement of parliamentary standards and decorum.

Of course one could not expect such a reformation to be attempted without being thoroughly trialled in advance. Brother Ivo's suggestion is that once she has completed her first draft, she approach the Prime Minister who has ring-fenced the Foreign Aid budget. He will surely embrace with enthusiasm the opportunity to offer, fully-formed, the new code for probity for testing by the recipients of significant UK Aid, by which Brother Ivo has in mind Kenyan members of Parliament who currently pay themselves more than US Senators.

(Posted by Brother Ivo)

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Armed Forces Day - for those who fight for our freedom

It's hard to get any new national celebration off the ground: it is usually only after centuries of cultural absorption that a red-letter day - a day of special significance - is established. The first were on the Church's calendar - saints' days, feasts and other holy days - some of which became fused with the political foundation of the nation state - St Patrick, St Andrew, St David and St George. We also have civil red-letter days, like the Queen's birthday (and official birthday), and Remembrance Sunday. In this increasingly secularised age, the success (or otherwise) of these days appears to be directly proportional to the consumerism surrounding them.

Today is the fifth Armed Forces Day. It will be overlooked by millions who are oblivious, and ignored by millions more who will be aware of it but completely detached from it. The website informs us:
It's an opportunity to do two things. Firstly, to raise public awareness of the contribution made to our country by those who serve and have served in Her Majesty's Armed Forces, Secondly, it gives the nation an opportunity to Show Your Support for the men and women who make up the Armed Forces community: from currently serving troops to Service families and from veterans to cadets.
You'll find a list of celebrity supporters - Brucie, the cast of Emmerdale, Davina McCall.. along with Her Majesty and the Queen and the Prime Minister. But apart from the Supreme Governor there is only one listed supporter from the Church of England:

Isn't he a national treasure? Please remember and give thanks today for those who risk and pay the ultimate price so that we might live in peace and security. And please remember also the military chaplains, whose task it is to bring spiritual comfort and encouragement to our men and women on the front line. It can't be easy grappling with the complex theological and moral questions and ethical dilemmas which arise.

There will be those who object to any celebration of the war machine, principally because of the horror of battles fought and blood poured out. You have the right to propagate the gospel of non-violence and to hold such views. But please remember that you are at liberty to do so only because others fought and gave their lives so that you might be free. In giving thanks for our Armed Forces, you are opposing evil and supporting that which is good. There are those armies and nations with a lust to conquer and destroy, but ours is mobilised only reluctantly and dedicated to the ultimate cause of peace.

War is always a tragedy: even when it is 'just', it is not a normative good. More often it is waged for wicked motives and unworthy ends. But the British Armed Forces are motivated by neighbour love and a desire for more authentic peace. It is our political leaders who bear responsibility for the well-being of the people; it is our soldiers, sailors and pilots who are called to arms and, sadly, to pay with their lives.

Remembrance Sunday is to commemorate the dead: Armed Forces Day is to appreciate the living. Thank them while you can.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Nadhim Zahawi proposes amnesty for illegal immigrants - to boost the Tory vote

Nadhim Zahawi was hand-picked by Conservative Campaign HQ for the safe seat of Stratford-upon-Avon, as part of David Cameron's 'brand decontamination' strategy. He was actively promoted and advanced to the detriment of other potential candidates, and championed by those who had influence over the selection process. Some strong candidates who wanted to apply for the seat were prevented from doing so: their CVs were filtered out by CCHQ, which deemed them somehow 'unsuitable'.

Mr Zahawi has now called for a 'seismic' shift in immigration policy - to grant an amnesty to all illegal immigrants, which, he says, makes sense economically and politically. By the latter, he means that these illegal immigrants would then be more likely to vote Conservative (the party has a problem attracting votes among minority groups). Stratford-upon-Avon, incidentally, doesn't have much of a problem with illegal aliens.

Mr Zahawi told The Independent: "We shouldn't be afraid to think outside our comfort zone. Our failure to appeal to ethnic minorities should send loud alarm bells ringing in Downing Street and Central Office. Unless we act now this electoral penalty will only get worse."

The Conservative Party won just 16 per cent of the non-white vote in the 2010 general election.

Frankly, His Grace is of the view that ethnic minorities are more likely to vote Conservative when the party advocates the economic values and socially-conservative views of those who tend to be Muslim and Sikh especially. And that includes the belief that hard work and thrift lead to financial reward and social progress, and marriage consists of a man and a woman, in pursuit of and in accordance with the common good of wider society.

The proposal to grant an amnesty to illegal immigrants risks undermining public confidence in the entire immigration system, which is already in crisis. According to a study by the LSE, there are around 618,000 illegal immigrants in the UK, of which 442,000 live in London. To naturalise them all would simply send the message that Britain is open - wide open - to anyone who wants to get out of Delhi, Lagos or Kingston. What would be the point of painstakingly filling in all the legal forms if the illegal method eventually leads to the promised land flowing with the milk of benefits and the honey of free housing, education and healthcare?

No doubt the likes of Nadhim Zahawi will view those Tories who oppose his absurd idea as the 'swivel-eyed loons'. We might even be 'xenophobes' or 'racists'. The message 'Go back to your own country' has become socially and politically unacceptable, and where it is entertained - as in the outrageous case of Abu Qatada - we are powerless to enforce it.

Spain has had six amnesties, and each one has served only to encourage further illegal immigration. Nadim Zahawi says he wants to win Tory votes: true Conservatives will see the proposal as a fundamental injustice. Let us not forget that this Government opposes granting citizenship to the Iraqi and Afghan interpreters who helped Allied forces in their military objectives. Even the Gurkhas have been rejected.

If we cannot honour those immigrants who not only abide by the rule of law but fight side-by-side with us in defence of our liberties and values, where is the moral justification for rewarding illegal aliens who care not a jot for our laws, customs or traditions?

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Archbishop Justin prays at Israel's Yad Vashem

"This is not a place for words but for tears and remembering," said the Archbishop of Canterbury, as he paid his respects at Yad Vashem, Israel's memorial to the millions of Jews who died in the Holocaust. Yad Vashem is a phrase from Book of Isaiah: 'Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name (Hebrew: יָדושֵם) better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off' (Isaiah 56:5).

Archbishop Justin is touring the Holy Land and surrounding countries, expressing solidarity with all who strive for peace. In Egypt he assured both Christians and Muslims that all who strive for peace and reconciliation in the region 'are not forgotten'.

In Cairo the Archbishop met with His Holiness Pope Tawadros II, the head of Coptic Orthodox Church, and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Mohamed Ahmed el-Tayeb, among other leaders. Visiting Egypt at the invitation of the Most Rev'd Mouneer Anis, President Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, the Archbishop told Egyptian Christian leaders that 'the prayers and solidarity of the Anglican Communion' are with them.

Archbishop Justin was pleased to hear from the Pope and his colleagues how, since the Pope’s inauguration, the Coptic Church is responding to the challenges in contemporary Egyptian life. He offered his support for the new council of churches in Egypt, which draws together the strength and vision of all the Churches.

Pope Tawadros said: “We must build our dialogue and studies on love and crown them with prayers; we must also prepare our people to love, accept and work with each other in the spirit of unity found in John 17,” which contains Jesus’ prayer that his disciples may all be one.

Following what he called a 'warm and joyful meeting', Archbishop Justin said: “We had a very wide-ranging discussion, coming back several times to the question of how the Church can flourish and grow in prayer, in love for one another and in teaching of the scriptures to our contemporaries. It’s important that we find a way of enabling our affection for one another to be transformed into effective shared witness.”

The Archbishop also met with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheik Mohamed Ahmed el-Tayeb in Cairo, Egypt, in which they affirmed the importance of the ongoing dialogue between the Anglican Communion and Al-Azhar at such a critical time for Egypt and the wider region. Archbishop Justin expressed his appreciation for the way in which the Grand Imam and Al-Azhar have spoken up for rights of all the people of Egypt. He later said that the Grand Imam 'is someone whose heart is committed to the work he does in interfaith dialogue – which he’s extremely good at – and a deep concern for all the people of the region, whatever their background'.

Prayers and warm words are one thing. But the reality is that Christians are being systematically cleansed from the Middle East - including the Holy Land - by those whom we call Islamists but who call themselves Muslims. Dialogue and understanding are crucial for resolution, but, as the Archbishop noted in a recent tweet, there is 'little sign of hope' unless 'leaders have power of love not love for power'.

Yad Vashem and the Wailing Wall are perpetual reminders of thousands of years of Jewish persecution, suffering and death. Unless hearts can be changed and minds can be turned from the belief that Christians are less than pigs, we can surely expect another holocaust.

"Only our shared humanity is the way to peace," says Archbishop Justin. Finding ways of living together after the 'great traumas and tragedies of so many years' is 'a huge challenge'. "But there is no other way than finding each others’ humanity, recognising it, and seeing in it the image of God,” he added.

The key to peace is Jesus, who demands justice, which requires security for all the people of the region. We can talk about harmony and acceptance, and pray for affirmation and reconciliation. But ultimately the solution must be political: people have to decide and act. As Martin Luther King Jr said, "Peace is not kept by force, but by understanding. It is manifest through compassion, where the power of love is the greater than the love of power."

The key is indeed the power of love. Archbishop Justin is right to observe:
As a small but strong presence here in Jerusalem and the region, the Anglican Church has a profound and important role to play. Our embrace of God in Jesus Christ allows us to serve both the divine and the human in equality important ways. God is both transcendent and immanent in our understanding of the holy. And we are rightly dedicated to the glorifying of God and serving of humanity. Our rightful place in the temple is balanced with our rightful place in the city square. Since 1841, the Diocese of Jerusalem has glorified God and borne witness to the love of God for all people through our institutions of learning and healthcare. For more than 160 years Anglican presence in the Holy Land and throughout the Middle East has been an extraordinary force for good. And more importantly, we are merely at the beginning of a bright future – capable of even greater and more effective ministry in all these important areas, including peace and reconciliation.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Are tax-avoiders simply economic conscientious objectors?

From Brother Ivo:

One of the recurring news stories of recent times is the one about this public figure, or that public company, so organising their financial affairs within the law that ensure less or no tax is paid to the Government. The latest subject of this has been Nigel Farage of UKIP.

This has set Brother Ivo thinking about whether the presumptions that underpin such news stories are justified. Implicit in the criticism is the notion that lawful tax avoidance is somehow immoral, and that it is right and proper to shame such persons. At the same time, however, proponents of conscientious objection often insist that it is permissible and admirable for there to be an overt betrayal of specific legal obligation by government servants.

We are apparently invited to subscribe to the idea that if we only pay that tax which is legally required, we are not 'pulling our weight' in civic society. Jesus was not so far-reaching in his teaching, requiring only that we should render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's.

Of course, Caesar's taxes and plans for their use were significantly less ambitious than those of the modern Whitehall or Brussels bureaucrat whose percentage take from the gross national product exceeds anything the tyrants of Rome ever imagined. We have also become significantly less scrupulous about giving to God the things that are God's.

But it is not only the tax avoider who declines the obligations ordinarily required by the political class of the majority of its subjects.

As the cases of Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden are bringing to light, there are many, like Russell Brand, who will simultaneously heap scorn on those complying with the law whilst excusing those who overtly betray their contractual and fundamental loyalties to their country.

Brother Ivo is trying to puzzle out whether, within this secular world-view, there is a discernible underlying principle to be found. If not, he must conclude that conscientious objection has become nothing more than an immunity conferred ex post facto upon those approved by an influential political/media class with sufficient power to face down weak governments.

That is not a picture of conscientious objection with which he is comfortable.

Conscientious objection to war has been a long-established and respected status, much beloved by the Left and all those who regard themselves as having loyalty to a higher ideal which negates the call of the state to war service. Its origins lay plainly in a respect for those largely non-conformist religious groups like the Quakers which took seriously the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill'. Such believers were unconvinced that exceptions could be made, even when presented with carefully thought-through doctrines such as that of the Just War.

When religion was highly regarded, our forebears made an exception for those of conscience because they recognised, with a tolerance born of Protestant individualism, that a man can and should primarily take responsibility for the good of his soul, and if his honest reading of the Bible led him to pacifism, then that must be respected by a God-fearing, individualistic and tolerant state.

We no longer live in that God-fearing, individualistic and tolerant state, which poses the question: 'Is it time for secular Britain to repeal the protection to the conscientious war objector?'

Further, can either Manning or Snowden be protected on a point of principle while simultaneously execrating those who follow precisely the law, but fail to exhibit enthusiasm for offering additional financial support to the state?

Let us, however, begin by considering the position of the much maligned 'under-payer' of tax.

Suppose an individual regards the expansion of the state's share of the national output as wrong in principle: imagine they believe that they can do more good in allocating resources to the needy. Allow the possibility that such a taxpayer further takes the view that nations may prosper up to a point where government expenditure reaches around 37% of GDP, but thereafter there is a correlation between exceeding that percentage, and economic decline.

Surely, given that clear mindset and desire to see his/her country prosper, such a taxpayer is not only reasonable, but thoroughly moral in refusing to pass away control of wealth that he/she believes is better retained within the free choices, control, and perhaps less wasteful ambit of the private citizen's decisions.

In this scenario, our hypothetical subject is certainly not a malevolent evader to be censored, but an 'economic conscientious objector', actively pursuing what he/she genuinely regards as the promotion of the public good. They may be moving against the cultural mainstream, but so, then, is the war resister or the self-appointed leaker of secrets.

There is an interesting difference between such an economic objector, and the pacifist or leaker. The economic objector is fulfilling his/her civic obligations fully to the letter of the law. He/she seeks no extension of immunity under the law; only that there be no complaint that he/she should do more than is required after due legislative process. They render to Caesar as Caesar requires, but do not wish to send him an undeserved bonus. The conscientious war objector/leaker is rather less egalitarian, for he/she is deliberately doing less than his/her fellow subjects who, moreover, may even give their lives to protect and preserve the objector's claimed privileged position.

Lest readers think the idea of the economic conscientious objector is entirely a figment of Brother Ivo's imagination, consider the position of the Amish Community in the USA. They conscientiously reject all participation in the state and its apparatus. They make no claims on the wider community and accordingly have been granted the right, based upon their cultural and religious beliefs, to pay no tax. They have become a self-reliant, industrious and well-regarded group adjacent to society. Their presence is by no means unproductive or malign.

It is doubtful that many in 'modern', 'progressive' Britain would be as generous in spirit towards such a section of society. Equality of sacrifice would be demanded: we have already seen freedom of conscience trampled underfoot in the case of those conscientiously opposed to conducting same-sex civil unions. More examples are likely to follow.

As the equality agenda appears to be increasingly asserted, shall we not inexorably and logically reach the point where conscientious objection to war must rationally be seen as 'outdated', founded, as it is, upon a religious premise that the 'modernisers' laughingly reject?

If the 'economic conscientious objector' is not to be valued and respected for his/her lawful challenge to the opinions and priorities of government, why should the war resister, the contract breaker, the ignorer of oaths, be allowed to shirk his/her societal responsibility?

If we approve or disapprove of such controversial figures as Manning or Snowden based purely upon our notion of approval or disapproval, we have left the realm of principle and entered that of the populist.

Christians will know that Barabbas will always have his supporters.

When conscientious objection was founded and accepted within its original religious context, even those who profoundly disagreed with the objection could acknowledge and respect the status. At present, we seem to have the Big Brother approach to such matters: a 'conscientious objector' may be nothing more than a traitor with good PR and a celebrity following.

Brother Ivo is not terribly interested, for these purposes, on the detailed political merits of the Manning or Snowden cases: he is trying to understand the underlying principles asserted once one departs from the clarity previously present when conscientious objection was rooted in its original religious context.

There needs to be some objective reasoning in these matters. When a Quaker, Buddhist or Amish claimed immunity from war service, one could, with a fair degree of certainty, recognise that attachment to principle with some confidence. In a post-religious world, that becomes much less identifiable.

Unless the secular philosopher can address this problem, he/she runs the risk of losing all claim to principle, leading to the position whereby allowing such a conscientious anachronism to continue is contrary to the notions equality and fairness to which we are all now required to subscribe as the highest priority. And that would never do, would it?

(Posted by Brother Ivo)

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Prime ministers and archbishops pay worthy tribute to the Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks

BBC and the 'Christian tradition' of female genital mutilation

His Grace was somewhat irked yesterday when he read a BBC Online article which referred to the 'Christian tradition' of female genital mutilation which some communities believe 'is a necessary part of becoming a woman'. It seemed a gratuitous swipe at Christianity for the sake of some politically-correct parity with Islam, just to ensure even-handedness to neutralise potential allegations of Islamophobia.

So irked, in fact, was His Grace that he decided to complain directly to the BBC. (He doesn't usually do this, principally on account of it being a complete waste of time: the last time he did so he received a dismissive response which was only heeded when an MP complained to make the same points, establishing irrefutably that some licence-payers are more equal than others).

Notwithstanding, His Grace completed the online complain form, thus:
You wrongly equate FGM in Islam with Christianity. You state:

"Some communities from parts of Africa and the Middle East, from both Muslim and Christian traditions, believe it is a necessary part of becoming a woman, that it reduces female sex drive and therefore the chances of sex outside marriage."

One can always find some outlying cultic theological belief or cultural practice to corroborate a particular bias, but this article completely fails to distinguish between Islam - in which FGM is widespread across both Sunni and Shia traditions - and Christianity, in which absolutely no mainstream church or denomination would support such barbarism. You fail to specify that some Islamic theologians claim to find support for the practice in the Qur'an ('sunna' circumcision), but no Christian theologian claims biblical provenance. You equate 'Muslim cultures' with 'Christian cultures' in Africa and the Middle East, but fail to mention the number of adherents, or how widespread their influence. If FGM is practised by any Christian communities, it is undoubtedly obscure and heretical. That is plainly not the case within Islam, which alone in the West is advocating the practice. Your article is misleading and biased in its presentation of Christianity.
Three hours later (which is very good indeed), His Grace received the following response - not from some spotty complaint clerk, but from the author of the article herself:
Dear Mr Cranmer,

Thanks for your email.

I have just dealt with a similar email to yours which complains that I have said that Muslims circumcise females as part of religion and points out that nowhere in the teachings of Islam does it say to circumcise females. I responded that my piece does not say that it is formal Moslem teaching that leads to female genital mutilation but that as I understand it the practice is carried out by some communities who adhere to Islam.

The information that I have says that the same is true of Christian communities who carry out this form of ritual mutilation. It seems to be a cultural act which has become entwined with the religious practices of some communities, both Christian and Moslem.

There are large numbers of both Christian and Moslem adherents in some of the countries where this is carried out for example Nigeria, obviously other countries where it happens, for example Egypt are mainly Muslim.

Best wishes,
To which His Grace replied:
Dear Ms Burns,

Thank you for this.

Unfortunately, it fails to address the issue of misinformation bias, which was the very specific complaint. And you appear to be adducing the fact that you have received a similar complaint from a professing Muslim as evidence of your impartiality. This complaint is nothing to do with the (ab)use of scriptures.

You state:

Some communities from parts of Africa and the Middle East, from both Muslim and Christian traditions, believe it is a necessary part of becoming a woman, that it reduces female sex drive and therefore the chances of sex outside marriage.

Your very next sentence says:

Sometimes girls are sent abroad to have it done. Sometimes it is done in the UK.

Which communities from Africa or the Middle East from the Christian tradition send their girls abroad to have the procedure carried out? Which Christian communities send them to the UK?

You give no indication, as requested, of the relative number of Muslim or Christian of adherents of this practice: you leave the reader with the impression of socio-political parity. Neither do you specify which source you used. What was this? What authority or methodological validity does it claim?

Your assistance with these questions would be appreciated.

Many thanks.
Thomas Cranmer (Dr)
Ms Burns responded within 7 minutes:
Hello again,

I have not got time to do this kind of research for you. However there is a lot of information on our website on this if you follow some of the links from the page.

However here are a couple of stats for you to think about.

Google for example a country like Eritrea and you will come up with this

There are two major religions in Eritrea, Christianity and Islam, however, the number of adherents is subject to debate. Eritrea: Religious Distribution (2002) indicates that Christianity makes up 63% of the population with Islam making up 37%.

Compare this figures with the numbers at the bottom of our piece which show that female genital mutilation of 35 to 39 year olds is 92.6% and of 15-19 year olds is 78.3%.

Do the maths!

Personally I conclude that fgm has little to do with classic religious teaching in either Islam or Christianity and a lot to do with underlying culture.

But this is beyond the remit of my piece,

Best wishes
By now, His Grace was clearly on first-name terms with Judith, who was showing herself most helpful by disclosing both her source (Wikipedia) and her methodology ('do the maths'). His Grace decided to let the matter rest there. Basically, taking the BBC's figures for Eritrea, their assertion is purely quantitative: that because the country is 63% Christian and 37% Muslim, and because 92.6% of 35-39 year-olds and 78.3% of 15-19 year-olds undergo the procedure, that even if the 7.4% of 35-39 year-olds who had not been cut were all Christian, it still means that more than 50% of the Eritrean women who undergo female genital mutilation are professing Christians.

This is, of course, a culturally-syncretised practice; it is not 'mainstream' Christian tradition. But very many Muslims would say the same about FGM in their religion.

The fact remains, however, that by describing the practice as a part of 'Christian tradition', the BBC lazily gives the impression that it could be supported theologically rather than established sociologically. The fact that very many Roman Catholics in the UK practise contraception methods other than the rhythm method does not render the use of condoms or the pill part of a 'Catholic tradition'. On the other hand, it is certainly true (paralleling the article) that 'some communities in the UK, from both Protestant and Roman Catholic traditions, practise contraception'.

So perhaps Judith can be given some latitude: there is nothing inaccurate per se about the article, but the wording is poor. It conveys the impression that FGM is encouraged by the religious teachings of Christianity as taught in some parts of Africa and the Middle East. His Grace must visit the Asmara Pentecostal Community and the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church to tell them that Mary was never genitally mutilated.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Digging the dirt to smear Stephen Lawrence family

So, let's get this right.

While Neville and Doreen Lawrence were struggling to cope with the trauma of the brutal murder of Stephen, their 18-year-old son, the police who were supposed to be investigating the crime were, in fact, told to find 'dirt' on the whole Lawrence family, in order to smear and undermine their campaign against racism in the police force?

This is the astonishing allegation of former undercover officer Peter Francis, who says he posed for four years as an anti-racist campaigner. He was also asked to target one of the witnesses to the murder, Duwayne Brooks: "I had to get any information on what was happening in the Stephen Lawrence campaign," Mr Francis told the Guardian. "They wanted the campaign to stop. It was felt it was going to turn into an elephant. Throughout my deployment there was almost constant pressure on me personally to find out anything I could that would discredit these campaigns."

The murder of Stephen Lawrence must have been a cause of unimaginable grief for the family. To discover now that there was a conspiracy to discredit them and key witnesses is profoundly shocking and deeply disturbing. Indeed, it is evidence in itself that Sir William Macpherson was right to conclude that the force was 'institutionally racist'. At the moment, of course, these are simply the allegations of one former police officer. But in the context of recent revelations of police misconduct in the phone-hacking and 'Plebgate' scandals, one might be forgiven for inclining to believe Mr Francis's allegations.

The police have been corrupted by political vendettas and sinister agendas. While we're consistently led to believe they're leaving no stone unturned and exploring every avenue in their inquiries, they are, in fact, seeking to preserve their reputation and discredit those who raise a complaint against them - especially if they're black and allege racism.

Mr Francis said he came under 'huge and constant pressure' from his superiors to 'hunt for disinformation' that might be used to undermine those arguing for a better investigation into the murder. Why should any police officer be wasting time, money and resources on finding 'dirt' on a victim of crime? Surely they should be totally focused on finding the criminals?

Peter Francis has become a whistleblower. He has decided to reveal his identity to call for a public inquiry into undercover policing. "There are many things that I've seen that have been morally wrong, morally reprehensible," he said. "Should we, as police officers, have the power to basically undermine political campaigns? I think that the clear answer to that is no."

As a whistleblower, he will now become the victim of all manner of harassment, bullying and subtle forms of persecution. He will be systematically undermined, demoralised, and his mental health questioned. Just as he was tasked with spreading 'disinformation' about the Lawrences, so his superiors will seek to discredit and slander him. It is a sadly familiar tale.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Bush was more the heir to JFK than Obama will ever be

From Brother Ivo:

His Grace recently reviewed the bathos that was Barack Obama's speech in Berlin. Brother Ivo commented briefly thereon, repeatedly describing this President and his administration as cynical. It is the precise word for one who chooses to shroud himself in the cloak of the Kennedy legacy whilst actually sharing few of its ideals or priorities.

Obama's visit to Berlin was deliberately timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of that iconic Kennedy moment. He spoke at precisely the same location, but there the similarity ends. He and those who plan his photo opportunities plainly believe that a picture is worth a thousand words, and so were more interested in the form rather than substance.This President is, as our Texan friends might say, 'all hat and no cattle'.

The low numbers attending the Berlin event attracted comment, with apologists explaining that the small audience was a result of it being by invitation only. This should not surprise anyone: the Obama administration is habituated to the media allowing it to define the news agenda, but the intelligent might ask why claims to follow in the footsteps of political giants like JFK and Reagan are not accompanied with their same openness to the people of the city? If you do not want comparison of impact, why copy so much of the format?

Brother Ivo's mind went back in time to President Kennedy's inaugural address (or on video). One cannot help but contrast the two presidents, ostensibly from the same political party.

Obama consorted with left-wing terrorist Bill Ayres, and has been openly sympathetic to the regime of the late Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. How far is this from Kennedy who, whatever his moral and political failings, was schooled in anti-Communism from the days his father was friends with Senator Joe McCarthy, who employed Bobby Kennedy on his commission to root out Red sympathisers in all parts of public life.

How times have changed in the Democratic Party.

Brother Ivo recalls the patriotic challenge of Kennedy: "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." Contrast this with the entitlement agenda of this current President. And Kennedy had a preference for a balanced budget; Obama is the greatest presidential spender in history by far.

One recalls Kennedy's steadfast coolness under pressure as he confronted the bullying might of the Soviet Union, which contrasts with the utterly ineffectual efforts of the current President who has done nothing to prevent the dangerous theocracy that is Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. If Obama has ever read the speech, he has clearly overlooked the passage which read 'We dare not tempt them with weakness. For only when our arms are sufficient beyond doubt can we be certain beyond doubt that they will never be employed'. Plainly, Obama's vacillating weakness continues to encourage Iran's leaders.

Above all it was Kennedy who defined the times when the USA was willing to utilise its diplomatic strength and military might to further the cause of liberty. In words that could have defined the neo-conservative movement which did indeed draw support from old-school Democrats, JFK defined the foreign policy of subsequent administrations thus:
Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

This much we pledge – and more.

To those old allies whose cultural and spiritual origins we share, we pledge the loyalty of faithful friends. United there is little we cannot do in a host of cooperative ventures. Divided there is little we can do – for we dare not meet a powerful challenge at odds and split asunder.
Would not Israel rejoice to hear such words today?

Reminding himself of those words, Brother Ivo cannot help but remark that in his foreign policy decisions, President George W Bush cashed the cheque that John F Kennedy wrote. And it was not only in foreign policy that Obama's much maligned predecessor showed himself to be the heir to JFK.

Kennedy promised: "To those people in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required – not because the communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich."

It was George Bush Jnr who created PEPFAR - the President's Emergency Plan for Aids Relief - which has just delivered its one millionth AIDS-free baby to HIV mothers, and ensured 5.1 million Aids victims can keep the disease at bay thanks to anti-retro-viral drugs being made readily available. This alone is a legacy any president could rightly be proud of, yet the unassuming President lacks the self-publicising gene that seems to drive his successor.

The sneering comedians of the BBC who abuse Dubya at every opportunity do not know their facts or their history. Dubya is almost certainly the better placed to lay claim to the mantle of JFK, yet he probably cares little about this now as he studiously keeps his promise not to criticise his successor, and quietly works to support the cause of the wounded warriors.

Brother Ivo has a confession to make: he did not want George W Bush to win the Presidency. He fell for the deliberate media campaign of disrespect directed at him. But it all changed on 9/11, when we saw the vulnerability of a man faced with awesome responsibility to keep America safe. He heard many saying that Al Quaeda was unstoppable and that none, least of all 'a fool like Bush', could stop a repeat of such atrocities. Brother Ivo began praying for the man whose problems equalled the challenges presented to JFK, and began also to resent the unfair criticism of a man of good character with a strong sense of responsibility carrying such a terrible burden.

Somehow, the Islamist terrorist attacks were deflected for the rest of his Presidency. He discharged his duties, but two wars forced his eye off the ball in relation to matters of economy. He had expected to be a domestic president, but the Office requires you to play the hand you are dealt.

He bore without comment the insult of Obama being awarded awarded a Nobel Peace Prize just 11 days after coming into office, for nothing more than not being President Bush, who had defended the right of Cindy Sheehan to set up a 'peace camp' outside his Crawford home and said nothing when she decamped when President Obama came to office. She has singularly failed to re-locate it to protest a president who continued the wars and continues to operate Guantanomo Bay. It must irritate Dubya that so many scandals have erupted that would have brought deafening protest had he so acted, yet still he keeps his self-denying ordinance, having stated that America can only have one President at a time.

He may not have been the greatest president, but George W Bush seems to have been far more in the Kennedy mould that President Obama will ever be. In due course, Brother Ivo suggests that Dubya's record will be more fairly judged than has been superficially undertaken by lesser men of recent time. He will probably ultimately earn that greatest of accolades: 'Well done, thou good and trusty servant', and that, one suspects, will be considered reward enough.

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

(Posted by Brother Ivo)

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The People's Assembly is Labour's UKIP

With the glorious rise of UKIP, all recent media focus has been on the fracturing and fragmenting of the political right: the more Cameron and Clegg have forged a coalition movement for social democracy, the more the social conservatives, Tory traditionalists, or Thatcherites - call them what you will - have been sidelined to the point of irrelevance.

His Grace was pleased to hear today of the launch of Labour's UKIP - The People's Assembly. They are very well organised, have a really snazzy website, and some high-profile support:

It is organised by:

Its statement of belief is:
We face a choice that will shape our society for decades to come. It is a choice faced by ordinary people in every part of the globe.

We can defend education, health and welfare provision funded from general taxation and available to all, or we can surrender the gains that have improved the lives of millions of people for over more than 50 years.

We do not accept that government’s austerity programme is necessary. The banks and the major corporations should be taxed at a rate which can provide the necessary resources. Austerity does not work: it is a failure in its own terms resulting in neither deficit reduction nor growth. It is not just: the government takes money from the pockets of those who did not cause the crisis and rewards those who did. It is immoral: our children face a bleaker future if our services and living standards are devastated. It is undemocratic: at the last election a majority voted against the return of a Tory government. The Con-Dem coalition has delivered us into the grip of the Tories’ whose political project is the destruction of a universal welfare state.

We therefore choose to resist. We refuse to be divided against ourselves by stories of those on ‘golden pensions’, or of ‘scroungers’, or the ‘undeserving poor’. We do not blame our neighbours, whatever race or religion they maybe. We are not joining the race to the bottom. We stand with the movement of resistance across Europe.

We are clear in our minds that our stand will require us to defend the people’s right to protest, and so we support the right of unions and campaigns to organise and take such action as their members democratically decide is necessary.

We stand with all those who have made the case against the government so far: in the student movement, in the unions, in the many campaigns to defend services, the NHS, and in the Coalition of Resistance, the People’s Charter, UK Uncut, the environmental movement and the Occupy movement.

We do not seek to replace any organisations fighting cuts. All are necessary. But we do believe that a single united national movement is required to challenge more effectively a nationally led government austerity programme.

We have a plain and simple goal: to make government abandon its austerity programme. If it will not it must be replaced with one that will.

We will concentrate on action not words. We aim to provide the maximum solidarity for unions and other organisations and others taking action. We support every and all effective forms action and aim to build a united national movement of resistance.

Our case is clear. The government’s austerity programme does not work; it is unjust, immoral and undemocratic. Alternatives exist. Debts can be dropped. Privatisation can be reversed and common ownership embraced. A living wage can begin to combat poverty. Strong trade unions can help redistribute profit. The vast wealth held by corporations and the trillions held by the super rich in tax havens can be tapped. Green technology, alternatives to the arms industries, a rebuilt infrastructure including growth in manufacturing are all desperately needed. We are fighting for an alternative future for this generation and for those that come after us.
And its statement of actions and objectives:
The People’s Assembly will support every genuine movement and action taken against any and all of the cuts. We support all current industrial actions by the unions. We encourage and will help to organise the maximum solidarity action with the PCS and teaching union members taking protest and strike action the week after the People’s Assembly, as well as with other action by unions planned for the autumn.

Peoples Assemblies against the cuts should be organised in towns and cities across our nations, bringing all those fighting the cuts together into a broad democratic alliance on a local basis.

The national and the local Assemblies, in partnership with Trades Unions, Trades Councils, campaigning and community groups, can unite our movement and strengthen our campaigns. Local Assemblies will help us to organise a recalled National Assembly to review our work in the early spring of 2014.

We will work together with leading experts and campaigners both here and abroad, and friendly think tanks, to develop rapidly key policies and an alternative programme for a new anti-austerity government. We will continue to welcome support from all who fight the cuts.

We will call a national day of civil disobedience and direct action against austerity on November 5th and a national demonstration in Spring 2014.

We will support the call for local demonstrations on 5th July, the 65th Birthday of our NHS and specifically, at Trafford Hospital, Manchester, the birthplace of the NHS.

We will work with the trade unions, campaign groups and others to organise and mobilise for a national demonstration at Conservative Party Conference in Manchester in support of our NHS on 29th September 2013.
This is quite simply marvellous. It will delight Bishop Pete of Willesden no end. One only has to read some of the group's blog comments to appreciate what a significant threat The People's Assembly represents to Ed Miliband and the entire Labour movement: it is true Socialism; a repudiation of the Blairite 'Middle Way' and New Labour; a glorious Red revival. If it results in a new political party, Owen Jones et al will deprive Ed Miliband and his successor of the keys to No10, just as Roy Jenkins, David Owen, Bill Rodgers and Shirley Williams did for Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock throughout the 1980s.

His Grace wishes them every blessing.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Third Irish Roman Catholic priest commits suicide

"The death by suicide of Belfast-based Fr Matt Wallace has stunned many people. He is the third Irish priest to take his own life in the last 18 months. People are understandably shocked by the particular circumstances of each tragedy. But when the dust settles around the death of Fr Wallace, and his brother-priests and parishioners begin to pick up the pieces, it’s vital that some good can be brought out of this tragedy. There is a danger that when the shock dies down, we all get back to business as usual and there is no discussion about the wider questions."
So writes Michael Kelly, editor of The Irish Catholic, in a profoundly moving and sensitive piece entitled 'We need to talk about priests'. Please read it. In fact, read it before reading this post any further, or what follows in matters of theology or ecclesiology will be devoid of emotional, psychological and sociological context.

This is not the suicide of one priest in 10 years, which would be statistically irrelevant. It is not even the suicide of two or three priests globally over three or four years, which may find more correlation. We are talking here about the suicide of three priests in Ireland alone over a period of just 18 months, which researchers may hypothesise suggests correlation if not a causal relationship.

According to Émile Durkheim (Suicide, 1897), Protestants are more inclined to commit suicide than Roman Catholics. A more recent study corroborates Durkheim's findings:
"The way we came to work on this issue in the first place," Becker explained, "is we read about Durkheim's thesis where he made the point that Protestants more often have an individualistic religion than Catholics and Catholics more often rely upon the congregation as a group so that in times of trouble, Protestants are more on their own than Catholics."

In addition to this hypothesis, Becker and Woessman also suggest that the different suicide rates may be due to different emphases in Catholic and Protestant understandings of grace. Catholics will more often emphasize the rewards that come with good works or the punishment that comes with sin. Protestants, on the other hand, will more often note that God's grace cannot be earned through good deeds. As a result, it may be that Catholic teachings on suicide are stricter and those teachings become internalized among Catholics.

A third hypothesis has to do with Catholic confession, or the act of regularly confessing sins to a Catholic priest. Protestants do not recognize this sacrament. Since suicide is the only sin that could never be confessed to a priest, a Catholic who finds confession important to avoiding Hell may be less inclined to commit suicide.
The theology of grace is perhaps of greatest relevance. Roman Catholic teaching on suicide is clear. As set out in John Paul II's Evangelium Vitae (#66):
Suicide is always as morally objectionable as murder. The Church's tradition has always rejected it as a gravely evil choice. Even though a certain psychological, cultural and social conditioning may induce a person to carry out an action which so radically contradicts the innate inclination to life, thus lessening or removing subjective responsibility, suicide, when viewed objectively, is a gravely immoral act. In fact, it involves the rejection of love of self and the renunciation of the obligation of justice and charity towards one's neighbour, towards the communities to which one belongs, and towards society as a whole. In its deepest reality, suicide represents a rejection of God's absolute sovereignty over life and death, as proclaimed in the prayer of the ancient sage of Israel: "You have power over life and death; you lead men down to the gates of Hades and back again" (Wis 16:13; cf. Tob 13:2).
His Grace took this to mean that suicide is a mortal sin. If it be not only 'as morally objectionable as murder', but 'always' so, it is difficult see understand how it might be forgiven before the Throne of Judgement.

But Louise Mensch (via Twitter) set His Grace right on the matter. These priests who commit suicide may not possess an informed intellect (ie know that suicide is wrong); and they may not have given full consent of the will (ie intended to commit the action). If they killed themselves out of fear or psychological imbalance or emotional stress, there cannot be full consent since these impede the exercise of the will and mitigate responsibility. The Catechism states: 'Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide' (#2282). Louise Mensch is right in this: although suicide is a 'gravely immoral act', it is not necessarily a mortal sin. Thanks to Mrs Mensch, His Grace is enlightened.

But in these three suicides over 18 months there is something which ought to alarm the Roman Catholic Church at the very highest level. If we were talking about the third suicide in 18 months of the oppressed sweatshop slave in India or China, there would be rather more noise from the anti-capitalist media. We would hear an awful lot from the BBC and the Guardian about how Apple or Microsoft or Nike treat their workers 'inhumanely, like machines'. But there's not a lot of concern about Irish Roman Catholic priests. Are they worth less than iPad manufactures in Shenzhen and Chengdu? Is the Roman Catholic Church less culpable than Apple?

All suicide is tragedy. We who daily find the will to go on living cannot begin to grasp the depths of despair, hopelessness and loneliness which must be felt by those who resort to the ultimate rejection of God's absolute sovereignty over life and death. But does it not bear a little consideration that this desperate loneliness might be slightly eased by permitting those priests who wish to marry to do so? No doubt Church of England vicars occasionally commit suicide, but is not a life-long partnership of mutual companionship, love and support more likely to guard against intolerable sexual, emotional, psychological and social burdens? As God said: "It is not good for man to be alone." He did not exempt the priesthood. If this were an Apple or Microsoft condition of employment, there would be outrage. It is merely man-made tradition, first mandated at the First Lateran Council of 1123. So, yes, 'We need to talk about priests'. But let us not do so apart from institutional systems, outdated dogma and overbearing hierarchy.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Ich bin eine Katastrophe

Unlike the Brandenburg speeches of presidents John F Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, this one was largely ignored - by both Berliners and the wider media. Kennedy attracted an estimated 450,000 in 1963; Reagan was mocked for managing only a tenth of that - an estimated 45,000 - in 1987. But Barack Obama managed barely a tenth of that in 2013.

Yes, an awe-inspiring 4,500 flocked to the Brandenburg Gate to hear this President say what he had to say, which wasn't very much at all.

There was no coherence and nothing memorable. Kennedy's "Ich bin ein Berliner" and Reagan's "Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" resonate down the ages: they were cries for freedom against oppression; for liberty against tyranny. It was geopolitical meat in an age of absolute moral conviction, when good was good and evil empires were manifestly evil, and in this Manichaean struggled the leader of the free world preached a gospel of healing and hope; of liberty to the captives.

But President Obama spouted milk: his pious platitudes of globalist relativism told us nothing and called for nothing. Actually, that's unfair: what we basically had was "Chancellor Merkel, stop burning fossil fuels!", for we are all citizens of the world and global warming will be the end of us. There was a bit of nuclear waffle and a bit of war waffle and a splattering of Guantanamo waffle, but Obama's vision of Utopia offered no practical solutions to any of the world's most pressing needs (...not a word about Islamism or the 'cleansing' of Christians from the Middle East).

And here in the UK it was all overshadowed by Jeffery-gate (or Geoffrey-gate) - reports that President Obama called George Osborne 'Jeffrey' (or Geoffrey) throughout the G8 summit, and how embarrassing it was for Osborne that he was completely unknown to the President of the United States.

It's funny, isn't it, how this sort of gaffe by Obama is turned by the media to reflect badly on the injured party; how the Conservative Chancellor becomes the butt of jokes against the essential infallibility of the Democrat President.

If this had been George W. Bush calling Gordon Brown 'Jeffery', the media would have surely mocked the President's premature Alzheimer's. Dubya's bloopers are ubiquitous:

But Barack Obama can get it wrong, too:
And let us not forget his embarrassing moment with the Queen, or writing the wrong date (the wrong year, no less!) in the Visitors' Book at Westminster Abbey. But none of this was greeted with the merciless vitriol and endless scorn that would have greeted Dubya.

The reality is that Barack Obama has been a colossal disappointment - at home and abroad. His Grace cannot improve on the final observation of Nile Gardiner at the Telegraph:
In front of the Brandenburg Gate, Obama sounded more like the president of the European Commission than the leader of the free world. It is never a good sign when a US president parrots the language of a Brussels bureaucrat when he is supposed to be a champion of freedom. Obama’s distinctly unimpressive speech in Berlin was another dud from a floundering president whose leadership abroad is just as weak as it is at home.
Obama is no JFK; he is no Ronald Reagan. He doesn't even hold a candle to George W. Bush. The Chancellor of the Exchequer should wear 'Jeffrey' with pride: it told us more about Obama than his entire Brandenburg speech: "Jeffrey, tear down this euro!"

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The long shadow of Operation Yewtree

From Brother Ivo:

In recent months we have seen a procession of elderly men publicly shamed for things they may or may not have done in the days of their youth 50 or 60 years ago.

In the heady days when everyone was urged 'if it feels good, do it', young and not-so-young men complied with the zeitgeist, and women too behaved significantly differently from their parental forebears, liberated by the contraceptive pill. Everyone was both encouraged and assumed to be 'up for it', and where that culture was most prevalent it is no wonder that all young women were regarded as fair game and compliant if not persuadable.

We have since learnt that unrestrained liberty rarely comes cost-free on all manner of levels, and the zeitgeist, too, changes. What once passed for consent is no longer accepted: political correctness has a more puritanical streak than the radicalism of the 60s which brought us Lolita, Candy and countless musicians and entertainers' recollections of groupies of indeterminate age. The tabloid 'up-skirt' photo was surely pioneered by 'Top of the Pops'.

Plainly few institutions were more progressive and permissive than the BBC, whose institutional failings to protect the young and preserve a comfortable working environment for many women are now plainly apparent. No sooner does an accusation arise than media-respected figures like Esther Rantzen come forward to confess suspicions at the time which were either unvoiced or unheeded. Big litigation, based upon such a widespread culture of institutional carelessness, will surely follow. Lord Reith must be turning in his grave.

We should always be cautious in the case of long-past events and recollections. Often we are delving into a culture of such multiple casual attractions that there may well be some truth in the defence that the accused cannot remember what happened 50 years ago. Some accusers could be suffering a degree of 'buyer's regret' for the follies of youth, though the greater part will be genuine in reporting crime.

Historic cases pose a serious problem for those concerned with justice. The assertion 'all children lie' was once routinely allowed to pass unchallenged as part of the defence case: that was an outrageous generalisation. Yet is not the presumption that all accusers must be believed also fraught with danger?

Nobody should doubt the trauma suffered by victims of sexual crime who have to re-tell their stories in a court environment, as the latest case of subsequent suicide tragically confirms. As the consequences of convictions are also serious and may perhaps harden, it remains proper to ensure that the trial is fair to all. Allegation must be carefully but sensitively challenged. It is not always well done.

The more objective forensic help available to narrow the issues before the courts, the better. In all such cases, some preliminary questions are routinely to be asked, foremost of which is whether any sexual activity occurred at all.

In one sector of these cases, there is today an opportunity to settle such a question early.

The abortion statistics show that 15% of all abortions are within the under-18 age group. Over 3000 of these relate to girls under 16. Put simply (and readers need not be in doubt as to Brother Ivo's distress at such loss of life) each under-16 abortion yields 'forensic material' with reliable proof of crime, and each under-18 abortion yields evidence of fact, should the woman undergoing the abortion subsequently raise a criminal accusation.

We also have a growing DNA police database upon which many of the perpetrators of crime leading to abortion may feature in later life.We may in time be able to make effective DNA comparisons swiftly, cheaply and accurately.

Why are we not routinely securing the DNA evidence of these crimes for future use? Are we only interested in such cases if they are historic and involve the famous?

Operation Yewtree has been a protracted and expensive enquiry. Our society has decided that it is a worthwhile exercise to investigate the allegations that are made. Some have questioned the value, but the victims of Stuart Hall appear to have benefited from justice being done even though it is much delayed.

Brother Ivo suggests that this may be a good time to revisit the question of the continuing indifference of our society to the many acts of sexual crime against children whom we appear to have endowed with rights to privacy in preference to the right to protection. Both through the provision of abortion and under-age contraception (often secretly), we turn a blind eye to crime in the same way that the BBC (and some parts of the Church) did all those years ago.

Simply by collecting and storing this evidence, we would be sending out a powerful message to all those thinking of abusing young children that the shadow of the Yewtree is wide and enduring.

Operation Yewtree investigates historic crime: that is not wrong. Yet, Brother Ivo cannot escape an uneasy sense that we are undertaking it mainly to enjoy the bringing down of the elderly famous. We condemn the laxities of the past whilst daily missing the beam in our own eyes when it comes to the sexual protection of our under-age children.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Internet Porn - Mary Whitehouse is dead.

"When they are small and playing with Lego on the floor, you can be reassured that that’s the case. But when they get a bit older, their entertainment is offered by computers, tablets or mobiles – and this online world can be a dangerous one from a parent’s perspective."
So writes Culture Secretary Maria Miller in today's Mail. There was a time when pornography was the preserve of the shady Soho backstreet or the prohibitive top shelf of the news stand. Now it's everywhere - quite literally available in endless streams at the touch of a button: if your parents have installed an internet firewall, you've got an iPad. If they censor that, there's your iPhone. If they monitor that, you'll have friends whose parents aren't so obsessed with surveillance.

And we're not talking here about pictures of normal sexual intercourse: we're talking about every depravity under the sun - much of it quite illegal, but freely available to the determinedly curious. Studies abound of the of the damaging effects of this - psychologically, physically and emotionally.

The Greek term πορνεία ('porneia') is a much disputed term, having been variously translated 'fornication', 'sexual immorality', 'adultery', 'marital unfaithfulness' or 'whoredom'. The Septuagint uses porneia to refer to male temple prostitution, and so linked with homosexuality, which is corroborated in other sources which translate it 'the fornication of Sodom'. There is now more etymological consensus that it combines extra-marital sexual intercourse (male and female) with an element of payment; to slaves bought and sold for cultic prostitution.

The pornification of society has once again become cultic. On the internet, it is a ubiquitous, malignant menace. How are we to keep our minds and hearts pure against such an onslaught? "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things" (Phil 4:8). But it is simply impossible when you're bombarded day after day with lustful images, obscene filth and violent depravity.

Labour is of the view that 'voluntary controls are not working and parental authority has been undermined by technological change'. They're not wrong, but they did little about it when they were in power, and not a lot has changed in three years. Now the Prime Minister has called a 'No10 summit' to tackle the problem - in particular the disgusting images of child abuse which are often both sexual and violent. You'd think this would be a no-brainer, but Yahoo!, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Facebook, BT, Sky, Virgin Media, TalkTalk, Vodafone, O2, EE and Three are all global brands, and there is simply no global definition of 'child'. The age of consent isn't even standardised in the EU, let alone across the continents. You can pass a law in the UK to remove illegal material from the web, but it won't stop people searching sites in Thailand.

And why focus on the internet, when sexual images are freely available on cable or satellite television, in music videos and advertising? And who determines artistic merit? Isn't one person's porn another person's art? What about erotic literature or films? Are we to filter or block all of these? Would age-verification mechanisms work? What is the technological solution to circumventing domestic law? What is 'normal' pornography? Who are you to impose your normative narrowness upon the more exotic and adventurous? Should we not be free to corrupt ourselves, if we so wish? Is it not a human right? Is not morality relative? Has not the era of religious restraint passed? Sexual licence has triumphed. Who are you to judge what is and is not depraved? Mary Whitehouse is dead.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Pope Francis writes to David Cameron on G8

A few weeks ago David Cameron wrote to Pope Francis about the G8 leaders’ summit in Lough Erne, setting out his agenda for the global economy.  He promised to maintain ring-fencing of the Overseas Aid budget (0.7% of GNI) and work toward 'the common good'. He wants 'fairer taxes, freer trade and greater transparency'. He advocates trade liberalisation, open markets, bilateral trade deals and less protectionism. He criticises 'poor rules, corrupt practices and weak capacity'. Much of it, indeed, could be taken as an attack upon the EU. 

The Pope has now replied:

To The Right Honourable David Cameron, MP

Prime Minister

I am pleased to reply to your kind letter of 5 June 2013, with which you were good enough to inform me of your Government's agenda for the British G8 Presidency during the year 2013 and of the forthcoming Summit, due to take place at Lough Erne on 17 and 18 June 2013, entitled A G8 meeting that goes back to first principles.

If this topic is to attain its broadest and deepest resonance, it is necessary to ensure that all political and economic activity, whether national or international, makes reference to man. Indeed, such activity must, on the one hand, enable the maximum expression of freedom and creativity, both individual and collective, while on the other hand it must promote and guarantee their responsible exercise in solidarity, with particular attention to the poorest.

The priorities that the British Presidency has set out for the Lough Erne Summit are concerned above all with the free international market, taxation, and transparency on the part of governments and economic actors. Yet the fundamental reference to man is by no means lacking, specifically in the proposal for concerted action by the Group to eliminate definitively the scourge of hunger and to ensure food security. Similarly, a further sign of attention to the human person is the inclusion as one of the central themes on the agenda of the protection of women and children from sexual violence in conflict situations, even though it must be remembered that the indispensable context for the development of all the afore-mentioned political actions is that of international peace. Sadly, concern over serious international crises is a recurring theme in the deliberations of the G8, and this year it cannot fail to address the situation in the Middle East, especially in Syria.. In this regard, I earnestly hope that the Summit will help to obtain an immediate and lasting cease-fire and to bring all parties in the conflict to the negotiating table. Peace demands a far-sighted renunciation of certain claims, in order to build together a more equitable and just peace. Moreover, peace is an essential pre-requisite for the protection of women, children and other innocent victims, and for making a start towards conquering hunger, especially among the victims of war.

The actions included on the agenda of the British G8 Presidency, which point towards law as the golden thread of development – as well as the consequent commitments to deal with tax avoidance and to ensure transparency and responsibility on the part of governments – are measures that indicate the deep ethical roots of these problems, since, as my predecessor Benedict XVI made clear, the present global crisis shows that ethics is not something external to the economy, but is an integral and unavoidable element of economic thought and action.

The long-term measures that are designed to ensure an adequate legal framework for all economic actions, as well as the associated urgent measures to resolve the global economic crisis, must be guided by the ethics of truth. This includes, first and foremost, respect for the truth of man, who is not simply an additional economic factor, or a disposable good, but is equipped with a nature and a dignity that cannot be reduced to simple economic calculus. Therefore concern for the fundamental material and spiritual welfare of every human person is the starting-point for every political and economic solution and the ultimate measure of its effectiveness and its ethical validity.

Moreover, the goal of economics and politics is to serve humanity, beginning with the poorest and most vulnerable wherever they may be, even in their mothers' wombs. Every economic and political theory or action must set about providing each inhabitant of the planet with the minimum wherewithal to live in dignity and freedom, with the possibility of supporting a family, educating children, praising God and developing one's own human potential. This is the main thing; in the absence of such a vision, all economic activity is meaningless.

In this sense, the various grave economic and political challenges facing today's world require a courageous change of attitude that will restore to the end (the human person) and to the means (economics and politics) their proper place. Money and other political and economic means must serve, not rule, bearing in mind that, in a seemingly paradoxical way, free and disinterested solidarity is the key to the smooth functioning of the global economy.

I wished to share these thoughts with you, Prime Minister, with a view to highlighting what is implicit in all political choices, but can sometimes be forgotten: the primary importance of putting humanity, every single man and woman, at the centre of all political and economic activity, both nationally and internationally, because man is the truest and deepest resource for politics and economics, as well as their ultimate end.

Dear Prime Minister, trusting that these thoughts have made a helpful spiritual contribution to your deliberations, I express my sincere hope for a fruitful outcome to your work and I invoke abundant blessings upon the Lough Erne Summit and upon all the participants, as well as upon the activities of the British G8 Presidency during the year 2013, and I take this opportunity to reiterate my good wishes and to express my sentiments of esteem.

From the Vatican, 15 June 2013

There is in this correspondence prima facie agreement on much common ground. But David Cameron's understanding of Roman Catholic social teaching is a world away from the Pope's. "Catholic social doctrine talks about taking care of those who can’t take care of themselves, people who need help," US Vice-President Joe Biden explained last year. For him, it's all about social justice. For his then opponent, Paul Ryan, the preferential option for the poor remains one of the primary tenets of social teaching, but it means you 'don’t keep people poor, don’t make people dependent on government so that they stay stuck at their station in life'. Roman Catholic social doctrine compassionately sustains poverty - it fails the poorest. David Cameron wants the poor to take responsibility for their indolence and inaction. And so does Roman Catholic reformer Iain Duncan Smith.

IDS is a Christian, and his mission is evangelical: he sees things rather as Margaret Thatcher saw them – as a battle between good and evil, and the problem is sin. Of course, he can’t easily say so because all hell would break loose. But he is intent on renewing society, and you do that by renewing the heart of man, and that is easier the earlier you captivate the heart. And he is clear on the limits of government:
“The government can check the signals, but most of the intervention is done by the voluntary sector, private organisations, people who have proven programmes that work. You don’t want some official trying to descend from on high and intervene. We’ve been doing that for years, and it’s all gone wrong. I’m talking about intervention, but on a programme based around local communities. Government doesn’t do this. It can pave the way, set up the structures.”
He said back in 2011: "We care more about our society than we do for the political party. I don’t care if I’m attacked for it. I want to get Britain right — to me that’s more important than actually having a political spitting match." And that's undoubtedly true for Pope Francis, too.

But it's curious - is it not - that the Prime Minister has not corresponded with the Archbishop of Canterbury on this matter. Surely, with all his manifest experience in business and consideration of ethical finance, he would have had a contribution to make?

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Leading Christian opponents of same-sex marriage knighted

Gerald Howarth MP (left) is arguably the most vocal Anglican opponent of same-sex marriage in the House of Commons (“..aggressive homosexual community..”). His knighthood was announced last September, 'in recognition of (his) longstanding public service to the country'.

Edward Leigh MP (right) is arguably the most vocal Roman Catholic opponent of same-sex marriage in the House of Commons ("..the merciless prism of equality.."). He was knighted today, 'for public and political service'.

Both awards are undoubtedly merited - for defending the Faith if not distinguished dedication to public service.

But His Grace will forgive those cynics who might infer that the Prime Minister is engaged in a little Church-placating.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Archbishop Justin meets Pope Francis

Archbishops of Canterbury have been meeting with popes of Rome for more than 50 years: it is a sign of ecumenical progress and fraternal love. The Pope of Rome is head of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, and the Archbishop of Canterbury is spiritual leader of 77 million members of the Anglican Communion, so it's good to talk.

There are basically two ways of viewing this latest meeting. One is the sour and ungracious fashion of the infallible Catholic Herald, which believes that Anglicans are so far beneath the infallible way, truth and life that we aren't even worth talking to. The other is to value all dialogue as a positive expression of hope and grace: not to insist on ecclesial uniformity but to recognise that we all see in mirrors darkly.

There is no point talking about women priests: the two churches simply do not agree. If the Pope of Rome sees that as a barrier to unity, so be it. The Archbishop of Canterbury similarly sees the Council of Trent as a barrier to unity, and so be that, too. As the XXXIX Articles declare, 'The Church of Rome hath erred.' We do not agree on so very much, and that's a fact.

But surely we can work together where we do agree. Surely we can both love our neighbours? Surely we share the same concerns about poverty and the global economic crisis? Surely we agree on the imperative of restoring dignity to the poor and hope to the marginalised?

There is so much spiritual and missionary work to do that all ecumenical dialogue serves a purpose. Roman Catholics like William Oddie may speak ecclesiological truth, but its tone is so manifestly un-Christian that he must speak on behalf of so few of his co-religionists. He is like the older brother of the Prodigal Son - proud, aloof and judgmental. - consistent with neither the spirit of Pope Francis nor that of Archbishop Justin. Today they meet as brothers; fellow bishops and pastors of the Church. The Pope has said that the Ordinariate is 'quite unnecessary' and that the church 'needs us as Anglicans'. Whatever our theological differences and historical disputes, we are friends.

Our task of preaching the Gospel is primary: everything else is secondary. We may differ on the mode of that justfication, but every step toward salvation is one to greater truth. Surely, for Christ's sake, in this aggressively secular and increasingly intolerant cultural environment, we can stand together against those who assert that every public manifestation of the Christian faith is both an obstacle to human freedom and a scandal to human intellect.

Overcoming the obstacles to full, restored communion is never-ending this side of Glory. But we must encourage each other in that which engenders holiness; not tear down by harsh words. If we can stand together to recite the Lord's Prayer, we acknowledge the primary mission objectives of the Church. One senses that this is the primary calling and beating heart of Archbishop Justin and Pope Francis. Following the more cerebral and penetrating theological engagement and reflection of Pope Benedict and Archbishop Rowan, today is about Gospel action and readiness to respond to the most urgent needs of our time.

As Pope Benedict said at his Inaugural Mass in 2005, Christ takes away nothing that pertains to human freedom or dignity or to the building of a just society. 'If we let Christ into our lives we lose absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. Only in his friendship is the great potential of human existence revealed.'

The presence of Justin and Francis in Rome as fellow bishops is itself a sign of unity. The tedious bureaucracy of the Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission is largely irrelevant compared the task of working to establish the dignity of all human beings, and to resisting the aggressive secular-humanist-atheism which tolerates nothing of the transcendent in human affairs. Archbishop Justin and Pope Francis agree that we must be able to testify, argue and protest for the Faith that was bequeathed to us by our forefathers. If we are no longer free to proclaim the truth to persuade our neighbours that Jesus is Lord, we are no longer free.

So, in today's meeting in Rome, pray for holiness, hope and a life of transparent joy. The alternative is a myopic existence of isolation,. doubt and fear. As Cardinal Newman said: "It is what is unholy on both sides that keeps us apart."
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