Tuesday 30 November 2010

Bishop Kieran Conry's Pastoral Letter for Advent

As promised (and with thanks to Prayers for the Bishop) here is His Lordship's pastoral letter for Advent...
'My dear brothers and sisters in Arundel and Brighton,

One of the most striking paintings in the Millennium exhibition of images of Christ was that of the English painter Stanley Spencer. It was an image of the resurrection of the dead on the last day. But it was taking place in his home village of Cookham on the Thames. It shows people waking and stretching, the joy in their faces as they recognise their family and friends, and the fact that they are alive again. They then walk down to the Thames and get into the boats that take them to the promised land of heaven.

You might say that this is a rather fanciful and even frivolous image, but it is one of the common Christian understandings of the experience of death, that one day the dead will all hear the call of the Lord and rise from their graves.
This notion of a final day of resurrection is also expressed in today’s gospel, where there seems to be a warning about the way this day might take us off guard. The thought was certainly there, too, in St Paul’s earliest letters; in the First Letter to the Thessalonians – probably familiar to anyone who has been to a funeral – Paul suggests that he himself might still be alive when the last day comes. But gradually this expectation faded in the early Church.

It is one of the themes of this season of Advent, however, that we look forward to the end of our pilgrimage through life and our meeting with the Lord who has saved us from our sins. How this will be experienced we do not know, since by then we will be beyond the restraints of time and place; it is part of the mystery of life and death, part of the mystery of God.

There is, too, a more immediate theme running through Advent, that of our preparation to celebrate the Lord’s birth at Christmas. So Advent joins together the beginning and the end of the experience of salvation in Christ.

But what about the bit in between? Is there no other way to think of the coming of Christ? The first reading today, from Paul’s Letter to the Romans, speaks of the present time – he calls it the ‘kairos’ in Greek. In the lectionary the words ‘the time’ are in inverted commas, indicating that they have a special meaning. Paul feels that this is a particular moment, a special time, a time of great grace. And that reading is given to us today precisely because it speaks to us today.
This is a special time, because it is our time, the time that we have. It is not the best time the Church has ever had, and it is certainly not the worst. But it is our chance to witness to our faith, to be courageous in grasping this opportunity. Because this is the middle coming of Christ, the unveiling of Christ in our world – this is the way that Advent ends, with the epiphany and baptism of the Lord.

This year will always be remembered as the year Pope Benedict came to England. It will also be remembered as the time he gave us new courage and confidence and asked us to be bolder in just saying that we are followers of Christ, and offering evidence in public. In order to meet deadlines, I am writing this on 11 November, and most people that I have seen over the last few weeks have been wearing a red poppy to indicate that they are at least aware of those who lost their lives in the world wars and other conflicts. Many young people wear a variety of coloured bands on their wrists, suggesting support of a host of causes. They are wearing their hearts on their sleeves.

Next week, Monday 15 November, I am going to Leeds for a meeting of the Bishops’ Conference. I hope that we will discuss the possibility of restoring the old Friday Fast Day. This was one of the most obvious signs of Catholic identity, apart from going to Mass. It determined the diet in places like prison and hospital, and was something that Catholics were instinctively conscious of: we knew that we couldn’t have meat like everybody else that day, and it was a source of a sort of pride – it marked us out as different.

Today we are perhaps less willing to be marked out, in case we are marked out as not just different, but ‘odd’. And that is what we had been told, and began to believe. But the Pope’s visit has said to us that this is not ‘odd’, but that it’s actually important. A few years ago I suggested that we might take up another of those old Catholic practices, grace before meals, if we had lost the habit of it. It’s not difficult, doesn’t take much time, but it’s a gentle reminder.

There are all sorts of small ways in which we quietly show to the world that we believe in Christ, and that we want to welcome Christ back into a world that has either largely forgotten him or never really heard of him. Pop into the church when you are passing, so that people can see it. Put a crucifix in the window. If you are at work or with friends and people ask you what you did at the weekend, mention the fact that you went to Church. But make sure it’s true. And we can also show ourselves, by praying a little more often, and spending time reflecting on the bible.

In the first reading today, Isaiah is confident that when the mountain of the Lord is lifted up, people will stream to it, and not only will they stream to it, but that they will turn away from conflict. We have a very important message for our society, and this is the time that is given to us to make it known.
I wish you a blessed, peaceful and fruitful Advent season.

With my prayers and best wishes to you all.'

Monday 29 November 2010

Impassioned Muslim Speaks Out in Defence of the Poor of Brighton

At the BUCFP today, I met Mohammed Asaduzzaman, a Muslim and former manager of 'Goa Spice of Life' restaurant in Brighton. He has decided to volunteer at the BUCFP to cook once a week for the poor and unemployed of Brighton, which is a marvellous thing.

I had my video camera on me and he was very interesting to talk to so I decided to interview him on video for the blog. He says he wants to make a documentary about homelessness in Brighton to 'shame the Council'. I think that's a very good idea.  With all the stories we hear about Islamic militancy in Iraq, Pakistan and other countries around the World, it was wonderful to hear what Mohammed had to say about love, justice and peace. May God bless him.

Sunday 28 November 2010

A New, Homeless Arrival in Brighton

Ray Slater:  A homeless camper who was 'moved on'
Actually, make that two, at least. The picture on the left is of a homeless man, Ray Slater, who was told by Brighton and Hove City Council that he cannot pitch his tent in a Brighton park.

In early November, The Argus apparently reported that Mr Slater was 'issued with a notice from a park ranger telling him he is breaching a bylaw and trespassing.'

Well, I don't know what happened to Ray. I pray he is okay, but it really is very cruel of the Council to issue such a notice to someone who is otherwise without shelter and is totally exposed to the elements. What are they saying? That he can sleep in the park but can't be protected by any form of waterproof material that you can peg into the ground? The Council are fully aware that as a Liverpudlian, Ray will have had no recourse to local housing or access to a hostel place because he will not have had a local connection. In other words, "You're not from round here, are you, son?"

Well, it just so happens that I met a man this evening near my flat.  He shares his name with our Bishop and hails from near where he lives! I must congratulate His Lordship on a very impressive pastoral letter today, by the way. If I can get a hold of a copy I'll post it. Anyway, the homeless man's story, latterly, at least , is horrendous. I shall not go into too much detail but the proverbial has hit the fan in a big way for him recently. It is true to say that everyone who comes here with a heavy rucksack, sleeping bags and all their 'worldly possessions' has a story and usually not a very pleasant one.

Ironically, I found him at the other entrance to the block of flats where I live in Brighton. He'd just got off the train, so I was able to give him one of these 'rough sleepers guides' to Brighton, featured on Channel 4's 'The Secret Millionaire', which, if they knew, would doubtless irritate Brighton and Hove City Council no end, given that their expressed policy is to try and get people who come to Brighton on the next train out of Brighton as soon as they humanly can. It's called a 'resettlement programme'. It's a bit like an internal deportation scheme, really.

I might email Brad 'I'm actually a very rich man' Reback , the 'Secret Millionaire', and tell him that the £25,000 he gave to the Brighton Unemployed Centre Families Project (BUCFP) has, with the help of Providence, already helped one person who has arrived in Brighton with not a clue as to where to access help. There is plenty of it, most of it, though not all, supplied by Christian churches. I'm sure Brad would be very happy about that, but I doubt that the Council would be, otherwise, let's face it, they would have thought of the idea of a 'homeless guide' themselves!

Anyway, so what is my point? Ah yes, the point is that the man is now sleeping in a tent in a park in Brighton that has a park ranger. I didn't know in which direction to point him, as he had such a heavy bag on his back and the only night shelter in Brighton, St Patricks, is a big walk away and the chances of him getting in there without a 'local connection', are, especially at this time of year, highly unlikely. What is more, he was totally skint. I must confess that I didn't know that the Council were so hot on homeless people 'pitching up in their parks', otherwise I'd perhaps not have suggested it, but, really, if someone turns up in Brighton with a tent and a sleeping bag and no money, there are no firm options for them. There's a boy scout in me that wants to go out there and pitch up a tent in the park with him. I used to love camping. He is a nice guy. Say a prayer for him.

Saturday 27 November 2010

Friday 26 November 2010

The Default Setting of Society is Eugenic

Ed West has written a piece on eugenics, labelling it a creation of the 'left' rather than the 'right' in his piece, 'Eugenics is not right wing', written in the wake of Lord Howard Flight's remarks that the poor need to stop 'breeding', or something such like. Hatred of the poor and the weak is not a 'left'-'right' discourse. It is a human discourse.

Eugenics is still around, it never went away, having received a bad reputation when millions of Jews, mentally handicapped, homosexuals and brown-haired 'non-aryans' were exterminated by the Nazi regime. It didn't go away, just moved on and called itself something else. Ed is right to draw attention to one of its disguises in 'family planning'.

Of course, it is true to say that eugenics is a danger when a society disregards the sacred and worships the profane, but the Old Testament and New Testament bear a true witness to societies that were inherently eugenic. The early Christians were famed for rescuing newly born, unwanted or malformed children from hilltops where they had been left for exposure to die because such children were seen as a 'curse'. Eugenics is as old as sin. It has always been insidious, so subtle that people don't recognise the evil for what it is until it is too late.

From the Epistle of St James...

'My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ of glory with respect of persons. For if there shall come into your assembly a man having a golden ring, in fine apparel, and there shall come in also a poor man in mean attire and you have respect to him that is clothed with the fine apparel, and shall say to him: Sit thou here well; but say to the poor man: Stand thou there, or sit under my footstool: Do you not judge within yourselves, and are become judges of unjust thoughts? 
Hearken, my dearest brethren: hath not God chosen the poor in this world, rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which God hath promised to them that love him. But you have dishonoured the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you by might? and do not they draw you before the judgment seats? Do not they blaspheme the good name that is invoked upon you? If then you fulfill the royal law, according to the scriptures, thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself; you do well.  But if you have respect to persons, you commit sin, being reproved by the law as transgressors. And whosoever shall keep the whole law, but offend in one point, is become guilty of all.'

The Apostles wouldn't have condemned the persecution of the poor and voiceless as 'eugenics', but would have just recognised a society's wicked trend towards despising the poor, lame, sick, orphans, elderly and widows for what it was - sin. The Epistle of St James reminds us that the default setting of society, of all of us, is eugenic - the default setting is one of blindness, pride and self-aggrandisement of the strong at the expense of the weak, crucified and vulnerable. It is true to say that eugenics is what happens when societies forget that God defends and upholds the poor, but societies, both 'then' and 'now' have always forgotten both God and His poor. The Beatitudes are an inversion of what the World recognises to be success and what the World recognises as glory. Christ reminds us that what we do, or do not do for, the poor, has been done, or not, for and to Him.

Wednesday 24 November 2010

'Pandora' Pope Can Restore Our Hope

Rorate Caeli, instead of combing exhaustively (as many of us have) through the Holy Father's words on condoms in his interview for Light of the World, and leaping to his defence/calling for his head, has posted a rather beautiful illustration of Pandora opening the box.

Obviously that's what some Catholics think. With 61 comments and counting, there are some absolutely scathing 'anonymous' comments about the Holy Father's remarks, so it just goes to show that traditional Catholics can do nasty cowardice too.

Anyone would have thought that His Holiness had just gone on a visit to the Holy Land and blown up the Church of the Nativity. The key accusation, levelled at the Successor of St Peter, that springs out from the page, is 'imprudent', a word used by one or two commentators.

The dust will settle. I don't think many brothels around the World tonight are throwing Pope parties and ordering in stack loads of assorted condoms now that they've finally been given 'permission' from the Holy Father. Neither do I believe that Catholic married couples who've been using NFP for the past decade and going to ditch it and embrace the enchanting world of nocturnal rubberised clinches.

His comments do not change Church teaching and what is more I do not believe for a second that Church teaching in this area will change, by a single jot. Since the Church cannot err in matters of Faith and Morals, the idea that what the Church has taught on the transmission of human life and contraception will, after 40 years of definitively not erring, suddenly err in Her Infallible Teaching, is ridiculous. The Church cannot err in these matters for even a single day since the Holy Spirit guides the Church 'into all truth'. We shall see whether the Holy Father has been 'imprudent', or not. I, for one, do not believe that Pope Benedict XVI has 'sold out' the Faith in order to appeal to the World.

His book, however, might be another story and sell out quicker than mince pies this Christmas! As Fr Tim Finigan has mentioned, the good thing is that the global media's reporting of the comments broke the richter-scale measuring machine for news stories of seismic proportions. The Holy Father might sell a lot of books worldwide and be able, through his words, on this and many other subjects, in his thoroughly compassionate, intelligent and humane way, connect with men and women in a way in which he hitherto could not and, indeed, Pope John Paul II could not.

Pope Benedict XVI is still the 'humble worker in the vineyard' that he expressed his desire to be at the very beginning of his Pontificate. For those Catholics gravely concerned or even deeply angry at Benedict XVI's words, remember that Hope didn't fly away when Pandora opened the box. Condoms are something of a 'stumbling block' for a World obsessed with both sex and condoms. The Holy Father is dealing with a whole generation largely dependent, utterly perhaps, on contraceptives, both barrier-based and medicinally taken. Talking about it is bold and courageous.

People expect the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church, on being asked a question about condoms, to say something terribly fierce, negative and condemnatory. It didn't happen and this is perhaps why....

The Holy Father surprised many of his critics in the UK by his personal warmth, obvious holiness, intellectual and moral bravery and genuine humility. His visit was marked as much by what he did not say, as what he did. Did the Holy Father, during his time in the United Kingdom, mention even once, condoms, homosexuality or abortion? No. Pope Benedict XVI stressed time and time again that we are men and women, and indeed children, in search of Truth, that we were made to seek the face of God, that we long for Him and that He, too, longs for us. Even to schoolchildren, Benedict XVI did not say, "Don't be naughty," he said something along the lines of, "Christ wants you to become Saints." The Holy Father is not just fully aware of the moral evils of contraception, in no way sees condoms as the 'real or moral solution' to the problem of HIV and Aids, His Holiness knows well that only God can satisfy the hearts of 21st century man and woman.

Ultimately, at this time, when the sins of the Church have flown right out of the box in the wake of the abuse scandals, the Church's vision of humanity, nurtured and emboldened by Her vision of God is not shown to men and women by a Pontiff decrying condoms from the Vatican, insulated and safe from the miseries of the World; its poverty, destitution, disease and the sins of those outside its walls.

The Church's vision of humanity, emboldened and nourished by Her vision of God, is shown, consistently, by a humble and holy Vicar of Jesus Christ who tells us that 'only Jesus Christ can make you happy.' This is what he seems to say everywhere he goes. To the male or female prostitute, or indeed absolutely anyone, the Holy Father explains that only knowing, loving and serving God can make you happy in this life and the one to come. Only Jesus Christ can make you happy. Only Jesus Christ offers you Life and a 'peace that the World cannot give'. Only Jesus Christ offers you Divine Love and Truth. Only Jesus Christ offers us a way out of our misery and our sins and our valueless vision of sex and wilful ignorance of the dignity of the human person. The only 'real and moral solution' to HIV, Aids, is Jesus Christ.

The only solution to every moral question of the day is Jesus Christ. This is not what he says just to the prostitute (regardless of his/her gender or sexuality) but to all of us! The Church contains every kind of sinner.  To every kind of sinner, Pope Benedict XVI says, "God wants you to know Him and love Him and serve Him in His Church". Only Jesus Christ offers you Hope and He, yes, He is still 'in the box'!

Abortion Rates for Under 20s on the Rise

Condoms do not seem to halt teenage abortion figures
Not much time for a blogpost today (working day, you know!), so I thought I'd draw readers attention to The Telegraph article on abortion.

In an article written by the 'Consumer Affairs Editor' (which goes to show the degree to which abortion is now treated as a service as much as a child is treated as a commodity), one gets the distinct impression that the whole 'safe sex' message is not yielding good fruits.  Of course, all we need to do is build a condom factory on the outskirts of each town and both teenage pregnancies and the resulting abortions will be halved by 2014...right?

Monday 22 November 2010

Does the Principle of Double Effect Work for Infertility?

Yes, indeed it does.

If one of a married couple is infertile or becomes infertile, the principle of double effect comes into operation and holds theological water, in stark contrast to condoms.

This is because while the outcome of sexual intercourse is known not to result in new life due to one partner lacking fecundity, no practical attempt has been made, either through intention or application, through the employment of a barrier between spouses, to thwart the creation of new life or to restrict or inhibit total self-giving in marriage.

It is not the sin of the couple that means that no new life will come about, because they are fulfilling the unitive purpose of sexual intercourse within marriage.

St Gerard Majella: Patron of the infertile
Furthermore, the couple do not defy God's sovereign power or the supernatural gifts of God, in as much as history bears witness to the power of the intercession of the Saints in granting, by their prayers, to a number of couples, the number of which is not negligible, who piously adhere to popular devotions, encouraged by Holy Mother Church, that which is impossible for man, because such gifts are both possible and easy for God.

For just as condoms are not 100% effective and have a failure rate, the number of which is rather conveniently unquantifiable, so it is true to say that many couples have found that either one or the other is not 100% infertile. Therefore, they are still, despite diagnosis, in principle, open to the possibility of new life.

Does the Principle of Double Effect Work for Condoms?

I am in touch with a Priest who advocates the use of condoms in marriage when one partner is HIV positive, in contradiction of what Catholics understand to be the teaching of the Church.

His defence is an appeal to the principle of double effect. In other words, because the intention of the HIV positive partner is not to transmit the virus to his or her spouse, the use of the prophylactic is not intended to exclude God's place as Creator in the act of union, but to strive to reduce significantly the chance of infection of his spouse.

The fact that every single time (assuming that the condom does not fail) he makes love to his wife, the outcome may be to exclude God's creative purpose in lovemaking is, he holds, an unintended side effect, thereby not just mitigating, but removing the guilt that would have been his.

The example cited by Church theologians is that of a doctor who gives more morphine to a patient than usual with the intention of relieving pain. Even if that dose of morphine kills the patient, it is asserted, the doctors intention was to reduce pain, therefore he is not guilty of wrongdoing. The question is, does this work with condoms in marriage where one person is HIV positive?

My opinion, and yes I know it is just my opinion (though I am far from alone in holding it), is that such an action is totally out of keeping with the Faith in the Holy Tradition of the Church. Condoms may hold water, but they have never held theological water in the Church's Tradition. Never. For spouses, one of whom is infected with the disease, which moral duty is more important? The duty to 'make love'? Or the duty to make love while giving each other totally to one another? Or the duty to make love, giving each other totally to one another and be open to new life?

I would argue strongly that traditional Catholic Teaching does not look upon the sexual act in marriage merely as 'love-making' in the secular view, for 'making love' in the secular view would not readily reject condoms dogmatically as contrary to the purpose of the act. The Church, certainly since Pope John Paul II, sees the sexual act in marriage as both unitive and procreative. The use of the condom is not sinful just because its 'side effect' is to deny Almighty God His sovereign, creative purpose in the creation of new life. The use of the condom is sinful also on the grounds that it denies the unitive aspect of the sexual act. The use of the condom is doubly gravely sinful because it denies both the procreative and the unitive aspects of the marital act. It denies not one, but both of the purposes of sex within marriage. Its application within marriage, even with good intentions, denies and destroys the whole purpose of sex.

Why do condoms attack the unitive purpose of the sexual act in marriage? Because Our Blessed Lord said that when a man and a woman leave their mother and father they marry and become 'one flesh'. The whole Holy Tradition of the Holy Church reflects that a man and woman become 'one flesh' in marriage, and, give themselves to each other totally, without reservation. The condom is a barrier not just between a couple and God's creative right in marriage. It is a barrier between the man and the woman themselves in the sexual act. For these two reasons, even if the intention is good, the whole Tradition of the Church rejects the condom's application in marriage.

If, therefore, a man and a woman are suddenly unable to express their love for each other totally in the Sacrament of Marriage, then the only truly Catholic response is to say that both have met the painful Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It is through the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ that this couple therefore enter into a new understanding of love which is definitively chaste. It is an opportunity for a couple to enter into a new and deeper understanding of love, through ascending Calvary. It is an opportunity for a couple to enter into a new and high process of sanctification and holiness of living. It is an opportunity to embrace the Cross of Jesus Christ. It is an opportunity to become Saints.

This is just my opinion, of course, but I somehow cannot see either St Thomas Aquinas or St Augustine, or any of the Doctors of the Church, given what they wrote, arguing for condoms in marriage, in any circumstances. If a doctor gives more morphine than usual to a patient to relieve pain but the unintended side effect is death, the doctor did not know that the outcome would certainly be death. In order to reduce suffering, he took a similar risk out of concern for his patient as a doctor who performs high risk surgery to save a human life. The situation with condoms in marital sex is different.

The intention may be good, but the outcome (as long as the condom works) is known beforehand. Because the outcomes of non-unitive sex and non-procreative sex are already known, the use of the condom cannot be excused, or morally justified because its application destroys the binary purpose of sexual intercourse in marriage. Sex, with a condom, in marriage, is not sexual intercourse, it is mutual masturbation and mutual pleasure giving that does not even lead to full union and, understood in the Tradition of the Church, sexual intercourse within marriage is nothing if it does not culminate in the full union of man and woman. The idea that 'anything goes' in marriage is quite wrong. Both the use of the condom and anal sex in marriage, are in the tradition of the Church's understanding, sins against nature, sexual acts running contrary to natural law, whether the couple are married or, indeed, not.

In other words, if a married couple find that they cannot in conscience 'go forth and multiply' or become 'one flesh' then the moral duty is to go forth and embrace the Cross of Christ. A man cannot contradict or reject his duty to reflect God's own nature of total self-giving, as exemplified by the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ, without going against his sacred Conscience.  The condom strangles and restricts that total self-giving in the sexual act immediately and throughout the sexual act. The man is consciously aware of that one unfortunate fact and so is the woman. The man and the woman, in this painful vale of tears must, then, give themselves, in a new and sublime sacrifice, the embracing of which is a true reflection of Divine love, to God.

Contrary to popular belief, the invention and widespread use of the condom do not present the Church with a 'new dilemma'. Attempts at thwarting both the procreative and unitive purposes of sex within marriage are as old as sin itself. Neither is it true to say that potentially fatal sexually transmitted diseases constitute a purely modern phenomenon. All comments, positive or negative, on this post are gladly welcomed because whether the Supreme Pontiff meant to or not, his words, reported during an interview appear to have opened up a debate, the outcome of which, if it takes place in the highest levels of the Church, is of supreme importance to the life, health and future of the Universal Church.

Sunday 21 November 2010

Condoms Packets Tell the Truth About Condoms

Here is what it says on the back of a packet of condoms:

'No method of contraception can give you 100% protection against pregnancy, HIV or sexually transmitted infections.'

That is why Durex is never sued because, despite condom use, HIV has been transmitted to sexual partners in some incidences, the number of which is not known.

Therefore, even if a married man who is HIV positive were to use a condom, he still places the future health of his wife at some considerable risk, despite the fact that the risk is difficult to quantify.

Therefore, even if the Holy Father were to have suggested that condom use in marriage, where one partner is infected with HIV, was justified (something that His Holiness definitively did not say), Durex themselves advertise on their product that their condoms are not 100% effective and that no contraceptive method can provide 100% protection.

What loving husband would be willing to 'reduce' the risk of transmitting HIV to his wife by using a condom? A loving husband would ensure that the risk of transmitting HIV to his wife was zero.

Anyway, back to that article. Fr Frederico Lombardi has released a clarification:

Clarification on remarks on AIDS and condoms
The head of the Holy See Press Office, Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, has issued a statement clarifying passages of the book Light of the World, in which Pope Benedict discusses AIDS and condom use.
The statement says Pope Benedict states that AIDs cannot be solved only by the distribution of condoms, and, in fact, concentrating on condoms just trivializes sexuality, which loses its meaning as an expression of love and becomes like a drug.
At the same time, the Pope considered an exceptional situation in which the exercise of sexuality represents a real risk to the lives of others. In this case, the Pope does not morally justify the exercise of disordered sexuality (in other words, yes, such an act still constitutes a grave sin), but believes that the use of condoms to reduce the risk of infection is a "first step on the road to a more human sexuality”, rather than not to use it and risking the lives of others.
Father Lombardi’s statement clarifies Pope Benedict XVI has not reformed or changed the Church's teaching, but by putting it in perspective reaffirms the value and dignity of human sexuality as an expression of love and responsibility."

Theresa of the Villa. I don't know who you are, but your battle, if it is indeed a battle, is a battle with Catholic Truth expressed through the Magisterium of the One True Church. Fornication and all sexual acts outside of the married state are still matters for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Condom use within Holy Matrimony is still a matter for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. On a purely human level, the use of a condom in marriage where one partner is HIV positive is understandable but is still considered by the Church to be illicit. We, the Faithful, are bound by Conscience to believe that even in these circumstances, it is still a matter for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and to consider this, as well as all the aforementioned examples cited, as matters which are gravely sinful, in accordance with the Teaching of Holy Mother Church as explained in Pope Paul VI's encyclical, Humanae Vitae.

That Condom Interview: Full Book Excerpt from BBC News

BBC has the full excerpt of the interview with the Holy Father which discusses the Church's position on the use of condoms.

Peter Seewald: "On the occasion of your trip to Africa in March 2009, the Vatican's policy on Aids once again became the target of media criticism. Twenty-five percent of all Aids victims around the world today are treated in Catholic facilities. In some countries, such as Lesotho, for example, the statistic is 40 percent. In Africa you stated that the Church's traditional teaching has proven to be the only sure way to stop the spread of HIV. Critics, including critics from the Church's own ranks, object that it is madness to forbid a high-risk population to use condoms."

Pope Benedict: "The media coverage completely ignored the rest of the trip to Africa on account of a single statement. Someone had asked me why the Catholic Church adopts an unrealistic and ineffective position on Aids. At that point, I really felt that I was being provoked, because the Church does more than anyone else. And I stand by that claim."

"Because she is the only institution that assists people up close and concretely, with prevention, education, help, counsel, and accompaniment. And because she is second to none in treating so many Aids victims, especially children with Aids."

"I had the chance to visit one of these wards and to speak with the patients. That was the real answer: The Church does more than anyone else, because she does not speak from the tribunal of the newspapers, but helps her brothers and sisters where they are actually suffering."

"In my remarks I was not making a general statement about the condom issue, but merely said, and this is what caused such great offense, that we cannot solve the problem by distributing condoms. Much more needs to be done. We must stand close to the people, we must guide and help them; and we must do this both before and after they contract the disease."

"As a matter of fact, you know, people can get condoms when they want them anyway. But this just goes to show that condoms alone do not resolve the question itself. More needs to happen. Meanwhile, the secular realm itself has developed the so-called ABC Theory: Abstinence-Be Faithful-Condom, where the condom is understood only as a last resort, when the other two points fail to work."

"This means that the sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalization of sexuality, which, after all, is precisely the dangerous source of the attitude of no longer seeing sexuality as the expression of love, but only a sort of drug that people administer to themselves. This is why the fight against the banalization of sexuality is also a part of the struggle to ensure that sexuality is treated as a positive value and to enable it to have a positive effect on the whole of man's being."

"There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants. But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection."

"That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality."

Peter Seewald: "Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?"

Pope Benedict: "She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality."

Light of the World is to be published in English on Tuesday and available for general release from Wednesday. To order a copy of the book, or for more information, please contact the Catholic Truth Society.

Saturday 20 November 2010

Why Pope Benedict XVI's Next Visit Will Not be Sponsored by Durex

The Telegraph reports today on the Holy Father's interview preceding the publication of his new book, Light of the World. It has been leaped upon by the media, and Catholics of a liberal disposition, as a ground-breaking and seismic shift in the Church's position on artificial contraception. It is anything but.

Pope Benedict XVI's words only serve to underline his pastoral concern for the salvation of souls, his hope for the redemption and the temporal and more profoundly spiritual rescue of the very vulnerable. It amounts to a humble prayer for those in peril, for their discovery of Christ's redeeming love. Here are the words that have caused controversy.

"There may be justified individual cases, for example when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be ... a first bit of responsibility, to re-develop the understanding that not everything is permitted and that one may not do everything one wishes," Benedict was quoted as saying.
"But it is not the proper way to deal with the horror of HIV infection." Benedict reiterated that condom use alone would not solve the problem of HIV/AIDS. "More must happen," he said.'

Please note, that the Supreme Pontiff is making it clear that the Church cannot actually expect people who are not living the Church's teaching (for one reason or another), not to use condoms. If they or indeed we, are practically unable or, more importantly, do not wish to live Church teaching in respect to sexuality at all, then you cannot expect these to avoid contraception.

The example he sites is one of self-defence for those working in the sex industry. His pastoral concern is that of preserving the body so that one may save and preserve one's soul.

Pope Paul VI's encyclical 'Humanae Vitae' was written to Catholics (explicitly) and it is written expecting that these Catholics are married. This is the premise on which the Church's teaching on contraception is based. For one who is acting outside of the moral law, to one who is fornicating, to one who is a prostitute, to one who is practising homosexuality, the sin of using artificial contraception becomes somewhat redundant, since the gravity of the first sin itself does not require the addition of another (the use of a rubber barrier) to embellish it.

Sin and the sense of sin, in this area, only really becomes particularly 'active' in married persons who give themselves to each other in Holy Matrimony as ordained by God. In other words, mortal sin in relationship to Chastity is mortal sin.

If you're going to sin mortally (engage in sex outside of marriage of any kind), and act contrary to that which your (informed) Conscience informs you, what difference does it make if you're using 'protection'? Indeed, if you're going to place your soul in jeopardy, a sense of survival in the long term demands that you use 'protection' so that you may hopefully come to repentance.

The Holy Father sees this as, 'a first bit of responsibility, to re-develop the understanding that not everything is permitted and that one may not do everything one wishes'. Please note, that he doesn't condone either the sin (sex, be it homosexual or heterosexual, outside of marriage) or artificial contraception (within marriage), but wishes to lead all to repentance and respect for the sanctity of life and to the great joy to be discovered in Christ's mercy and in His Church. Much like the Father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the Church, exemplified by the Pontificate of Pope Benedict, yearns for men and women to run back to the Church, in which is found the fullness of truth. Pope Benedict XVI is one who, seeing Christ's children in so much anguish, runs towards them, proclaiming the generosity and mercy of the One True God!

Friday 19 November 2010

US Couple's Vote on the Life or Death of an Unborn Child

16 week 3-D ultrasound of 'our little alien'
A shocking story, here. A couple in the US are putting it to an online vote to decide whether to have their baby or to abort the child. Pete and Alisha Arnold decided that deciding upon the life or death of their child is a bit like that moment in the gameshow 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?' when you get the chance to 'choose 50:50', 'phone a friend' or 'ask the audience'. The baby, of course, only gets one lifeline.

Pictured (left) is a scan of the baby at 18 weeks. According to the site, named, shamelessly, www.birthornot.com, 'December 9th is the last day we could legally get an abortion in our state. This vote will remain open until 2 days prior to allow for the procedure if decided.'

Interestingly, the couple have been posting 3-D ultrasound scans of their unborn child, describing the image of the unborn child at 16 week as 'our little alien'. How touching. Still, credit where it is due, they do acknowledge, at least, that this is a baby.

'At my 16 week OB check they did another ultrasound and baby’s development is still on target. Lots of fetal movement and the hematoma was smaller once again. Baby “Wiggles” heartbeat was at 164 bpm and I got to hear it on the dop tone as well. The nurse even informed me how the staticky crunch noises that I hear are the baby’s movements.'

Quite a few comments have appeared on their Wordpress blog, nearly all pro-life. A part of me wonders whether this couple are actually pro-life and are teasing those in favour of abortion. I really hope that that is true, because otherwise, if they are seriously using a 'democratic poll' in order to make a decision of life or death for baby 'Wiggles', then perhaps this is one of those occasions when social services genuinely should take their child from them at birth and give the baby to a couple who will show him, or her, true parental love and care. Otherwise, I'd be expecting in a few months, a new poll replacing this one, asking, "Shall we feed it...or not?"

Thursday 18 November 2010

If only the 'Religion of Peace' had a Spiritual Leader Like the Pope...

Mourners light candles for the martyrs of Our Lady of Salvation
It is very easy to denounce Islam in the light of the cold-hearted, bloodthirsty fanaticism that resulted in the horrific destruction of human life witnessed at Our Lady of Salvation, Baghdad. The question is, is it fair?

Watching Fr Nizar Semaan, an Iraqi Catholic Priest in the United Kingdom, speaking of his hope that Iraqi imams might issue a fatwa on those who actively seek to kill Christians, it struck me that Islam suffers from a lack of hierarchy and spiritual leadership.

Islam, as we can see from the violence in Iraq between Sunni and Shia Muslims, appears to be as schismatic, if not more so, than Christianity and Judaism. Yet, from evidence in recent years, Islam also appears to be the most violent religion on Earth, or, at least, the religion which appears to tolerate violence the most, the religion which seems to foster the seeds of violence in disaffected, young men, be it in Iraq, or indeed, Wakefield.

What would be fantastic, of course, is if Islam had a figurehead and am equivalent of the Magisterium defending time-honoured, traditional Islamic teachings on the dignity of all human persons, that all Muslims respected enough to take seriously concerning how to live the Muslim faith. Then, like the Holy Father, who in his famous Regensberg lecture, on Faith and Reason, offended Muslims worldwide by quoting 14th century Byzantine emperor, Manuel II Palaiologos's statement concerning Islam's tendency towards bloodshed, Muslims worldwide would have a spiritual leader who could denounce violence against Christians and non-believers, categorically, and issue fatwas against those who commit it. Then, too, the World would be able to assess whether Islam was a religion of 'peace and brotherhood' or a vehicle for religious fanaticism, fratricide, suicide and blood-soaked 'jihad' since the leader would preach love, brotherhood and forgiveness and condemn all murderous acts of war as tantamount to war against 'Allah and his prophet, Mohammed'.

Unfortunately, for all of us, while the World's most famous practising Christian is a benign, benevolent, wise and loving Pastor going by the name of Pope Benedict XVI, the Vicar of Jesus Christ on Earth, the World's most famous practising Muslim is Osama Bin Laden, who, rather inconveniently, for all of us, stepped into both the limelight and the power vacuum created by the total absence of any global spiritual leadership in Islam and, unfortunately, for all of us, there are many more Osama Bin Ladens waiting to take his notorious place, should he ever be found and captured, either dead, or alive. There is no figure of authority, of spiritual leadership, who can speak in defence of Christians and 'infidels' that Muslims can look to for guidance on how to live the Muslim faith or who instructs Muslims in the 'religion of peace and brotherhood'. It really seems all to depend on the theological position of local imams, worldwide, on whether Islam is a force for peace, or a force for brutal and sadistic murder of the innocent in the name of God.

Pray for the Christians of Iraq.

Tuesday 16 November 2010

Economic Disasters 'R' Us

From the international to the national, to all too close to home, the economic crisis is claiming victims. I've looked at my bank account today and exclaimed, "S**t! It's an financial crisis!"

My personal situation would be improved considerably if Verde Plants, the company who employ me to maintain Jury's Inn Hotel's flowerbeds on a monthly basis, paid me the £315.00 for work hired until the end of September, now rising to £350.00 for work hired until the end of October that they owe me.

For literally weeks I've been calling the company, asking the man who hired me, politely, to pay me, or at least to tell me when I will be paid, as my current financial situation is starting to mirror the cartoon pictured (left), as it is for so many. Who knows? I mean, I might want to buy some Christmas presents or something! I half-wonder if they're deliberately putting me off because they've ran out of money themselves. I'm sure there's something in the Catechism of the Catholic Church about withholding wages from the labourer and it being a very serious bad thing to do that makes Angels cry, but, anyway, it looks like so many of us are in the same boat. We're not all secret millionaires, after all.

The economies of entire countries, namely Ireland and potentially Portugal and Greece and others are going rapidly down the crapper faster than the EU President can flush. Ireland's situation is dire. Really dire. We're not doing that well ourselves, and, as you can see from this Google graph, Spain's situation is abysmal with an unemployment rate of 20%.

Click on image to enlarge
All in all, Europe, if it is not already in crisis, looks very much like it will be. Political activism of the nasty variety is most definitely a prospect in Ireland, with so much unemployment and levels of poverty so bad that the Government have promised a block of cheese for every citizen.

The 'European integration' project could unravel as far right/left groups become more popular within individual nation states. In this country, even students are getting out of bed to smash up Conservative Party headquarters. We are living in dangerous times and the political outcomes of the economic crisis remain as yet unclear, but potentially incendiary.

At a local level, I have heard from a friend today that St Patrick's Nightshelter, the founder of which left Brighton in disgrace, having ensured he and his family's wealth was ameliorated through "tramp-farming", may soon close. This would be a direct hit on the homeless of Brighton. According to The Argus...

'Rough sleepers fear a night shelter could close after a “service review”. Riverside ECHG housing association, which took over St Patrick’s Night Shelter in Cambridge Road, Hove in September, refused to rule out the possible closure of the service.
Rory Grieveson, 64, who spent two nights at the shelter last week, said he would have died without St Patrick’s. A spokeswoman for Riverside ECHG housing association said: “We are conducting a review but we are not going to second guess the outcome of the review. There are two services at St Patrick’s. One is the hostel and that’s just had renewed funding and is not part of the review. The night shelter is being reviewed. Riverside ECHG took over fairly recently so this is something that we are doing as part of that. The review is commencing now and the findings are due in February. The review will be looking a whole range of thing, part of that will be looking at the finances and spending of the service.”'

Whatever the criticisms of Lorica St Patrick's Trust, that's bad news if it goes ahead. There is no other night shelter for homeless men in Brighton. As far as I know, there has never even been night shelter provision for women in Brighton, but for men who rely on St Patrick's Nightshelter, this winter could get much tougher. All of the rest of the hostels are council referrals only, with a very limited number of rooms available, usually with a waiting list. In other words, if you are stuck out in the cold, you will stay out in the cold, if that shelter closes.

4thought on Abortion

A reader has kindly sent me some information on '4thought', Channel 4's public forum on real life stories. Impressively, for a mainstream media outlet, the channel is showing a series of small films covering individuals whose lives are or have been touched by abortion.

The first film clip is here. Yesterday, Rachel Bass discussed her abortion under the title, 'Is abortion ever justified?'. Members of the public are free to comment on the film.

The Pro-Life Alliance is highlighting the series of films. In the first one, practising Christian, Rachel Bass, decided to have an abortion after discovering her baby was severely disabled, but believes that God understands the difficult decision she had to make. Upon watching it, I have to say that the idea of arguing that 'God understands the difficult decision', despite having commanded us not to destroy innocent human life, is morally and theologically, extremely problematic. I'd like to say it is the result of protestantism, which defies the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, but I am quite sure that it is an argument employed by ill-informed or publicly defiant Catholic politicians and other Catholics as well.

It is sad that a Christian, albeit not a Catholic Christian, publicly espouses this moral relativism, but how very common it is nowadays. Rachel doesn't say that God 'agrees' with her decision but that God 'understands'. How does she know that God 'understands' her decision? What presumption!? It is possible that He understands, because He sees that even Christians are being deceived into procuring abortions against their own sacred Consciences, but does He agree with it? Does He condone it? I don't mean to be personal with this young lady, but she has come out publicly and said it and we are free to respond. She then dresses abortion up as compassion on the unborn baby who would have suffered were the baby born alive, dismissing any notion that actually the abortion may not have been a very pleasant experience for the unborn baby who could have been delivered and baptised. Clearly, Bible believing Christians nowadays have problems believing the Bible, hence, as Pope Benedict XVI says in Verbum Dei, 'Consequently the Scripture is to be proclaimed, heard, read, received and experienced as the word of God, in the stream of the apostolic Tradition from which it is inseparable.'

The Holy Father consistently battles against this culture of moral relativism in which there are perceived to be no moral absolutes, just a grey area, a sea of virtue and vice that we can navigate calmly with no consequences for our souls or other people. Even while watching 'The Secret Millionaire' last night, there was this point where the multi-millionaire, Brad, expresses that he is uncomfortable with deceiving people into thinking he is piss poor while lying through his teeth about his real circumstances. "Sometimes," said Brad, "you have to make difficult decisions because you know that ultimately the end result is good." Sure, he won people over in the end by giving them a cheque for £25,000, but it still didn't take away a bitter taste in the mouth of those who had believed his sob story all week and who trusted him. Some people did feel hurt and deceived and I can tell you that because I know the volunteers at the BUCFP.

What next? Armed bank robbers justifying armed bank robbery by saying, "It was a difficult decision, a tough decision, your honour, but one that I felt, in the light of potential pecuniary rewards, was ultimately right because I can tell you now that if I'd have gotten away with it, if not for those pesky kids, my family would never have had to go without again." Tony Blair used the same "it was a tough choice/a difficult choice/ I felt it was the right thing to do" justification for launching the horrendous war against Iraq, the consequences of which are now being felt by Catholics and other Christians fleeing the country or bravely staying to bear witness and risk martyrdom because they are having their Churches blown up by mad militant Muslims. These same Christians enjoyed a measure of security under the evil monster tyrant Saddam Hussein and his Coptic Christian deputy awaiting execution, Tariq Aziz, but the war resulting in carnage, death and widescale murder was just another "difficult decision". Mr Blair seems to believe that because it was a "difficult decision", his moral culpability and responsibility for it is somehow abrogated. As Catholics, if we get duped by the Devil's wiles we need to own our sin and confess it, rather than just say, "It's okay, everyone. I'm off the hook because it was a tough decision."

Why can we not be honest and, instead of using the word, "tough" or "difficult" in relation to moral decisions, say, "wrong", "wicked" or even "evil", since people are only too happy to employ the use of the words "good" and "right" to the perceived outcome. When we say this we are really saying, "Sometimes you have to do evil to do good." It doesn't make any sense! Every profound moral choice, and indeed every single moral choice is a "difficult decision". The battle in the hearts and minds of believers and indeed non-believers is a fraught struggle of the soul, in both distinguishing, and, indeed, choosing and struggling to choose well, between good and evil.

It is a battle we all face. "Shall I pray? Or not bother? Shall I be chaste, or shall I not? Shall I welcome this annoying drunk homeless man calling at my window at 11.45pm as my brother, or shall I tell him to piss off?" They're all "difficult decisions", but we believe there is a right and good decision and a bad and wrong decision. The moral relativism embraced by Catholics, other Christians and non-Christians is, as Pope Benedict XVI often repeats, the scourge of modern man and modern society.

The Church affirms confidently that there is hope for mercy and redemption for all of us, including those of us who have procured an abortion. As His Holiness says in Verbum Domini...

The word of God also inevitably reveals the tragic possibility that human freedom can withdraw from this covenant dialogue with God for which we were created. The divine word also discloses the sin that lurks in the human heart. Quite frequently in both the Old and in the New Testament, we find sin described as a refusal to hear the word, as a breaking of the covenant and thus as being closed to God who calls us to communion with himself.[78] Sacred Scripture shows how man's sin is essentially disobedience and refusal to hear. The radical obedience of Jesus even to his death on the cross (cf. Phil 2:8) completely unmasks this sin. His obedience brings about the New Covenant between God and man, and grants us the possibility of reconciliation. Jesus was sent by the Father as a sacrifice of atonement for our sins and for those of the whole world (cf. 1 Jn 2:2; 4:10; Heb 7:27). We are thus offered the merciful possibility of redemption and the start of a new life in Christ. For this reason it is important that the faithful be taught to acknowledge that the root of sin lies in the refusal to hear the word of the Lord, and to accept in Jesus, the Word of God, the forgiveness which opens us to salvation.

Upcoming 4thought films on abortion include:

Tuesday 16th November at 7.55pm – Dr Trevor Stammers

Dr Trevor Stammers is a Christian who has been a practising GP for over 30 years. He refuses to personally refer women for abortions and believes there is a growing uneasiness in the medical profession about the vast numbers of abortions performed simply because women see children as a “social inconvenience”.

Wednesday 17th November at 7.55pm – Professor Wendy Savage

Professor Wendy Savage is a retired obstetrician and gynaecologist and the co-ordinator of Doctors for a Woman’s Choice on Abortion. She believes that abortion is an important medical procedure and that religious groups should not tell women what they should do with their lives.

Thursday 18th November at 7.55pm – John Smeaton

National Director of the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child John Smeaton is fundamentally opposed to abortion in all cases. He believes that the same arguments that were used to justify slavery are now being used to justify abortion.

Friday 19th November at 7.25pm – Cat Stark

Twenty-seven year old Cat Stark had an abortion when she fell pregnant at university. She believes that it is patronising that women have to satisfy a list of criteria before being allowed an abortion and thinks that the 24 week time limit should be removed, as women are best-placed to make decisions about their own bodies.

Saturday 20th November at 7pm – Kiran Kaur

Sikh Kiran Kaur has a six-month-old daughter and is dismayed that women in the Asian community are still aborting their female babies for social reasons. She believes this is fundamentally at odds with the Sikh faith which preaches the equality of men and women.

Sunday 21st November at 7.05pm – Lucy Cavendish

Writer Lucy Cavendish had two abortions before starting her family. She viewed them as practical not moral decisions, and thinks it is wrong to bring a baby into the world that you do not want.


Steely Chancellor: George Osborne
Paul, a chap who until relatively recently was living homeless in Brighton and using St Mary Magdalen's Soup Run, dropped by to my flat last night. We talked about the benefits proposals of Iain Duncan Smith and together we watched Channel 4's The Secret Millionaire and chuckled when we saw ourselves on TV.

Paul was on TV twice, once at the Brighton Unemployed Centre Families Project (BUCFP) and at the Soup Run. Karla Lena of St Mary Magdalen's Church was also filmed dispensing soup to the homeless. I was on camera, very briefly, looking a bit shifty, asking for a cup of tea at the canteen of the BUCFP and wearing a silly black hat. We had a job search together online, as we're both out of work. While searching for jobs I came across this one, which seemed quite lavish in terms of public spending, given that we are at a time of economic crisis...

Job No: BWH/32327
Employer Reference: SG0029
Wage: GRADE M10/M11:£29,236 TO £35,430
Duration: Permanent
Date posted:12 November 2010
Pension details: Pension available
This vacancy is due to end on 08/05/2011. Liaison with stakeholders (including the media) to communicate the group's political message with the outside world and generating positive press coverage. Keeping abreast of political matters, demanding meticulous research of local issues and offering incisive comment on policy and strategy. Working closely with the. members of the group and the wider Labour Party organisation, you will crucially have a comprehensive knowledge of, and interest in, politics at both strategic and grassroots levels. Your ideological affinity with the Party will win the confidence of those that you work for and your intellectual credibility will legitimise your contribution to policy making and political strategy. 
How to apply
You can apply for this job by visiting http://ig5.i-grasp.com/fe/tpl_brightonhovecouncil04.asp?newms=jj&id=65428&newlang=1 and following the instructions on the webpage.
Employer: Brighton and Hove City Council
I must say it seems very odd that at a time when public spending is supposedly being slashed, that the Council are advertising jobs basically working for the Labour Party being paid out of public funds! I'd apply of course, but I don't think I'd get this job and the only way in which I am active in relation to the Labour Party is that I actively despise it. Just as an aside, you'll be glad to hear that after well over two months of sleeping rough, Jason has been housed at a hostel in Brighton, so hopefully he will manage to stay there over winter at least. Time will tell, however, since Jason has received a rather nasty letter from Her Majesty's Court Service demanding £115 in court fees. He can't understand why they are not deducting it from his benefits. The letter basically says, 'Pay up or we'll send you to jail.'

He's still awaiting his benefits after changes in circumstances and is keen to obtain a drum in order to start a homeless busking band. He has found a drum for £48 in a nearby music store, so if anyone wants to help Jason to be the drummer of a Brighton busking band, called Jason and the Anti-Social Behaviour Disorders, you can send donations to me at the 'Jason's Drum Fund' at St Mary Magdalen's Church, 55 Upper North Street, Brighton, BN1 3FH.

We've been performing this song on London Road with some success.

Friday 12 November 2010

The Problem with Vassula

The other day after serving at Mass, I was just about to change out of my cassock and cotta, when I was approached by a slim, black man with a package in a big white envelope.

He asked me to give it to Fr Ray Blake, saying it was a "gift" and so give it to him I did. Fr Ray, in the sacristry opened it. It was a book that looked like a kind of weird new Gideon's Bible with a CD and flyers for 'True Life in God'. The fact that this book was presented as a Bible was, to put it mildly, disconcerting!

'True Life in God' is a massive book, a voluminous collection of writings, claimed, by Vassula Ryden, to be a collation of intimate conversations between her and Our Blessed Saviour, emerging through 'automatic writing'. She puts pen to paper and, according to her, Christ speaks to her everyday and, through her, to the entire listening World. Crikey! Such a claim demands thorough investigation, since if this is true the writings may be both important and edifying. If it is not true, then, equally the writings should be burned pronto and treated as anathaema - a danger to souls.

Our Blessed Lord said, "By their fruits you shall know them." So, what is the fruit of Vassula? Well, as a  Greek Orthodox woman who befriends, or takes in, depending on your point of view, figures in authority in all Christian denominations, whether it be Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Baptist, Pentecostal or Presbyterian churches, Vassula claims to be on a 'mission from God' to unite all churches 'in Christ'. She's as happy to be at a charismatic service with a bunch of wide-eyed Baptists a-praisin' the Lord as she is to receiving the Precious Body and Blood of Christ at a Catholic Church, even though she is not a practising Catholic.

Whenever and wherever this occurs it is a cause of great scandal, not only to the Faithful, but to Bishops and Priests who are presented with a problem whenever Vassula presents herself for Holy Communion or requests that she may give a speech to followers at a massive Cathedral in the Diocese. This is because while it is true that Orthodox communicants can present themselves for Holy Communion in Catholic Churches, it is widely disputed as to whether Vassula is 'in good standing' even with her own Orthodox Church. She can draw upon some faithful friends in the Orthodox, even Catholic and most certainly Anglican hierarchy, but while one Orthodox Bishop will denounce her as an heretical witch, another will recommend her as a 'prophetess' for a new dialogue between Christian denominations in the 21st century. Unsurprisingly, with her total ambivalence to doctrine, she is most popular with Anglicans. My Anglican friend tells me that the Anglican monks at Crawley Down pour over her writings every day, devotedly, when surely Papal encyclicals such as Anglicanorum Coetibus and the newly released Verbum Domini would surely suffice.

In essence, aside from the fact that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith finds her writings to have an air of authenticity, the CDF have grave concerns, noting that her writings contain some important doctrinal errors.  The most obvious one that leaps out from the page is Vassula's definition of the Church itself. Truth, to Vassula, is a hobo with no fixed address. She presents 'the Church' as something in the eyes of the Christian believer and suggests that 'all roads lead to Rome', whereas the words given to St Peter by Christ categorically affirm the Pope's authority over believers, the power to bind and loose, to teach dogma, faith and morals, Our Blessed Lord confirming to Peter that "the Gates of Hell shall never prevail" against His Church, built upon the him, the first Pope, who proclaims Christ's identity, infallibly, as 'the Son of God, the Messiah, the Saviour of the World'. Outside of the One True Church are shadows of truth, partial truth, even, but the 'fullness of Truth' is only to be found in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. While she appears to recognise the primacy of the Pope, she, rather conveniently, does not feel "called" to speak on such matters.

The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI is, in many ways, a true Pope of Christian unity, able to embrace the Archbishop of Canterbury as a friend and a brother, yet never once denying the truth that he is 'the Successor of St Peter' and the proclamation of the Catholic Church as the Instrument of Salvation, the Ark of Truth, in a fallen World that is yearning for Truth.  Hence we have the creation of the Ordinariate for disaffected Traditional Anglicans, the fruit of which is already evident in the five flying Bishops who've flown the roost to their true home.  The Holy Father does not present the Gospel as a pan-Christian phenomenom which serves to unite the various 'branches' of the Church in 'fellowship' and 'peace'. The Gospel is distinctly, identifiably, Catholic. Our Blessed Lord is the Divine Founder not of many different 'branches' of His 'Church', but the Founder of the One True Church in which true peace and unity is to be found.

Fr Rene Laurentin: Vassula supporter
Mgr Rene Laurentin is one of her greatest supporters. His support for Vassula is interesting in the light of his public support for Medugorje. I would wonder whether support for the former takes away whatever credibility is attached to the latter. It is starting to appear that any woman or man who approaches Laurentin claiming to be a 'visionary' or 'mystic' who hears and sees things of a 'divine' origin has his full, unqualified and unquestioning support and loyalty. Just as an aside, it is interesting to note that, in 1962, he was accorded 'the honour of being a peritus or expert at the Second Vatican Council after being named a consultant for the preparatory commissions two years before in 1960'. What a profound honour!

The sad truth of the matter is that as long a creature like Vassula presents herself as a 'prophetess' of Christian unity, while resisting full communion with the One True Church,  and continues her claims to be the 'bridge' between the denominations, she will lack validity and credibility.  She is a woman obedient to no ecclesiastical authority and seemingly above any jurisdiction whatsoever. She raises more questions than she answers.

Vassula promotes her 'healing' ministry
Is she really a source of Christian unity or division? How, for instance, are Vassula-adherering Anglicans to embrace the fullness of Truth and Unity in the One True Church, when their adopted leader cannot bring herself to enter into full communion with that same Church, while she 'recognises the primacy of Peter'? She presents her writings as revelations that will save souls, and yet remains totally ambiguous over her own Christian identity and doesn't appear to give a damn, therefore, about the souls in her care.

If she were truly credible and truly holy, she would lead by example. The only thing we can deduce is that, to her, membership of the Body of Christ in His Church is not necessary for salvation, a dangerous belief to hold, especially when one has become so influential that believers consider her words to have come from the Mouth of God.

A small, yet telling, example of this occurred when the young man who gave Fr Ray Blake a book of her writings received Holy Communion. I know through an Anglican friend that the young man is an Anglican who worships at St Patrick's Anglican Church in Brighton. Yet, the young man presented himself for Holy Communion. Clearly, being one of Vassula's disciples has not impressed upon him the importance to be in full communion with the Church, reconciled to the One True Church and in a State of Grace, in order to receive the Precious Body and Blood of Our Blessed Lord under the guise of bread. To Vassula, his actions would not be problematic, but to the faithful Catholic who is loyal to the Magisterium, they are, whether they are performed with or without an informed conscience, a cause for scandal. Vassula promotes a Christ without Doctrine and that is profoundly damaging both to her credibility and to souls.

That, and that alone, is precisely the reason why Vassula Ryden is dangerous to souls. That is why I dropped her writings, the "gift" from the young man, in the bin with no questions asked. I do not know the origin of her 'revelations', but the CDF has never changed its position that her writings should not be treated by the faithful as such, but as her own 'private meditations'. While the CDF issued a 'warning' rather than a condemnation of the Vassula phenomenom, she herself is without doubt a cult leader who inspires loyalty from her cult followers, who is leading souls not into communion with the One True God and His One True Church, but terribly astray. True ecumenism does not deny infallible dogma or doctrine and articles of Faith. True 'mystics' and 'visionaries' do not point to themselves, but always to Our Lord Jesus Christ and His One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

I found this link at Catholic Doors and this link at Info Vassula helpful, in writing this post. Particularly striking are the testimonies which reflect the wholly negative aspects of the cult of Vassula, the particular problems of which were very evident in the man bearing the "gift" for Fr Ray Blake. Her followers are said to get very angry if you object to her writings and her validity, regardless of the fact that their own denominational commitment has seemingly been over-ridden by their love for Vassula. You will notice this when you look at the top of her Wikipedia entry, which seems to covers her true biography pretty accurately!

Thursday 11 November 2010

Joe Cocker Sings Dylan's 'Dignity'

Good song. Here Joe Cocker takes up one of the themes often discussed by the Holy Father.

Draconian Britain: Is Cameron Envious of the China Model?

The Telegraph today highlights a new development in the Coalition Government's far-reaching 'reform of the reform' of the benefits system. The article says...

'Anyone claiming unemployment benefit will have to sign a "three strikes and you're out" contract setting out punishments for the work-shy. Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, will announce a "claimant contract" which will set out the sanctions against those refusing to take up offers of work.
Those who fail to accept a job offer, or refuse to apply for a position recommended by an employment adviser will, on the first occasion, lose their £64-a-week Jobseeker's Allowance for three months.
If they do it a second time their benefit will be halted for six months. If they refuse for a third time they will lose the benefit for three years.
Those who refuse to take part in unpaid community work, which will become mandatory as part of the Government's new welfare-to-work plans, will be subject to the same penalties. Last night, David Cameron said a "life on benefits" would no longer be an option for those capable of returning to work.'
And there we were thinking it was only Communists who advocated forced labour, so it is ironic that David Cameron should say, "This is the deal. Break that deal and they will lose their unemployment benefit. Break it three times and they will lose it for three years", in a country in such close proximity to China. When Cameron apparently told the Chinese to "embrace freedom and human rights", I expect that the Chinese Premier replied something along the lines of, "Screw you. Not only do we make all your stuff and pretty soon we'll own all your arses, but, regardless, it looks like you've keen on adopting quite a few of our policies."

Anyway, I've already posted on this, re-iterating that the Church's social teaching affirms that the 'labourer is worthy of his reward' and that compulsory work for under £2 an hour is no recognition of the labour hired and that it sounds like yet another sin crying out to Heaven for vengeance, namely the defrauding of the poor and the denial of wages that reflect labour hired, could be enshrined in UK law very soon. When two are already on the Statute book, I guess, where is the harm in adding another?

As it happens, last night I met a homeless man wandering on the London Road who hasn't had any state benefits since last October. I'll call him 'Stephen' for the sake of it. Gaunt, shivering and bearded, he looked strikingly like Our Blessed Lord as he approached us.

He told me that after he left Phase One, a local detox support hostel, his rough sleeper workers were meant to instruct the hostel to forward mail onto the man in question, care of the rough sleepers team. Three months past and the man received no mail. Finally, exasperated, he asked them once more to go and check whether Phase One had any of his mail and so they did and indeed, they did! Loads of it! It had been withheld from 'Stephen' for a reason known only to Phase One. Among his assorted mail was an important letter asking 'Stephen' to attend a medical assessment at Atos Healthcare to see whether he was fit for work. Obviously, not having the letter, he did not attend since he was not informed. Because he was not present for his medical examination his benefits were stopped and never started again. Now that's what I call draconian!

I asked him how he has been surviving for a year. Ashamed, he told me that he shoplifts for food and beer to survive and because he is alcoholic. He has been before judges many times, weeks ago, even, only for judges to say, "We don't know what to do with you, because you've no money whatsoever. You can't even pay fines and all the prisons are full."

I've contacted The Argus, our local newspaper, and asked whether I can write a piece on Jason, homelessness and human rights and they've kindly agreed to 600-800 words, though apparently they can't afford to pay, so I guess this labourer isn't worthy of his reward either.  Jason told me last night that he and two other homeless people were approached by a man with a large camera offering £500 to each homeless man for his story for an article claiming to be a journalist from The Argus.  All three homeless men and women have experience of being offered cash by undercover cops pretending to be addicts, while being filmed, in a method of entrapment by police to put them in jail, so, all three told the man to go away and turned down the money.

While on the phone, therefore, to The Argus, I asked the editorial team whether the man was employed by them and they answered that he most certainly was not, because The Argus cannot afford such sums to pay people for their stories anyway. I believe them, for they cannot even afford to pay a freelance would-like-to-be journalist for his services. So, it begs the question: If the cameraman offering £500 to homeless people to get their picture and story who claimed to be from The Argus was not from The Argus, then for which division of Sussex Police was he working?

Tuesday 9 November 2010

In the Absence of God, the State becomes God

Ed West has written an excellent article on a new study that belief in God may be inversely correlated to belief in Government.

I think every generalisation is open to accusations that one is being crude, but it seems that there is a certain strand of atheist on the 'left' who replaces God's Divine Power and Sovereignty over human affairs, with the State. In the absence of God, as V.I Lenin asked, 'What is to be done?' Unfortunately, when the State has too much power over individual freedom and liberty, things usually get messy, even with the best of intentions. Above is Jonah Goldberg, whose book, 'The Rise of Liberal Fascism', Ed cites in his article, talking about why fascism is a product of progressive movements of the 'left', rather than the 'right'. Brighton is one of the most left-wing towns in the United Kingdom. It is a town well known for its 'liberalism' and yet the State rules with an iron fist over the poor. Here is Jason Evans in a direct appeal to Caroline Lucas MP. I think when he talks about 'seeing a dead body' if the Council don't house him, he is talking about his own, rather than Caroline's or mine or any other third party.

In the above video Jason Evans is wrapped up in bin bags in an attempt to keep dry while walking around Brighton at night, which is poignant given that society has largely discarded him. Just an update for readers concerned about Jason which is not entirely unrelated to this post.

He has been told that he must attend the Atos Healthcare centre to be assessed as to whether he is 'fit for work'. His doctor signed him off as 'unfit for work' a long, long time ago, because he is alcoholic and addicted to heroin thereby suffering a dual addiction. Add to this the fact that he is on an ASBO that bars him from vast swathes of Brighton until 2012 and we have what you could call a difficult employment situation on our hands.

Readers might be interested to learn that he is banned from Upper North Street, the very road where he has been asked to go and do the medical assessment at (We Don't Give) Atos Healthcare, therefore, if he attends the Employment Support Allowance (ESA) medical assessment, he'll be breaking his ASBO! You couldn't make it up, could you?! I think this is what they call 'joined up Government'. Nearly two months after his release from jail, Jason is still homeless, several weeks after release from HMP Highdown, still has access to no benefits, is still living without proper shelter, any sanitation or income and is still at risk of being sent back to prison if he begs. Jason is a perfect illustration of just how bad at being 'God-like' the State can be, since mercy, justice, forgiveness, compassion and love flow like a river not from the organs of the State, but from the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

I went for lunch at the Brighton Unemployed Centre Families Project (BUCFP) today. I've been asked to do an interview with the 'Secret Millionaire' who donated money to the centre for the centre magazine called Our Voice. Great! I've got the email of a millionaire! Someone at the BUCFP told me today that The Argus is running a special series of features on homelessness in Brighton. I think I'll see if they think Jason Evans is a story, but it is The Argus, so I shall not be holding my breath...

The Pope Who Won't Be Buried

It has been a long time since I have put finger to keyboard to write about our holy Catholic Faith, something I regret, but which I put larg...