Sunday, March 21, 2010

Congratulations, Gary!

Congratulations to and many prayers for Gary Buckby, who has followed in the steps of such great people as John Henry Newman, and me, to move from the CofE to ordination in Catholic Church.
Gary was ordained deacon this afternoon at Oscott College, and is now preparing for the priesthood. Ad multos annos!


Bosco Peters, an anglican clergyman in New Zealand, has an amusing post about passwords. He says that he has cracked the Pope's login to the Vatican website and his password is EtCumSpriti220. (Get it?)
It's an amusing post, were it not for the many comments who clearly haven't got the joke, and think he really has hacked into the Vatican website (Do you really think the Pope logs in to the Vatican website? why would he? and why choose a word play that only works in English? - I provide these arguments only for the immovably gullible).
The joke, though, has a lot of potential, especially when linked a tool to check the strength of a password.
He's not there yet though:

bcp1662 - a reference to the anglican Book of Common Prayer


filioque1054 - a reference to the Great Schism

are both quaint, but hardly risible, while

VocatusAtqueNonVocatusDeusAderit1961 - a reference to the psychololgist Jung

is very worthy, but hardly raises a smile and could be signficantly challenging late into the evening after a couple of gins. No, EtCumSpiri220 is the best yet, and one I would use, were it not for the fact that I have now told the world (if the world chooses to read this post).

Any ideas?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Smoking gun? That 2001 letter.

There’s an almighty row going on at the moment. It seems distilled into a shouting match between commentators at the Times and the Telegraph, but it is also rumbling in many different parts of the world, most notably in Germany. It is of course the continuing scandal of the way in which the Church has handled child abuse cases around the world.

There are many assertions made of frankly doubtful validity, most notably that the Catholic Church is especially prone to this kind of offence because of priestly celibacy. The shocking evidence of massive abuse in the Swedish care system is surely an indication that matters are somewhat more complex, as there are few Catholics and (I am told) even fewer celibates in the land of Wallander.

However, where - I am sure - the Church is especially vulnerable is in the matter of secrecy. It is well known that abusers were routinely moved from parish to parish, rather than being brought to civil justice, and it especially painful (and shameful) to hear that the Church was generally reluctant to co-operate with civil authorities.

Now, against this background I read repeatedly about a document written by the then Cardinal Ratzinger in 2001. This is, for many, the smoking gun. The letter written in that year to all the Bishops of the world, dealing with a range of issues, stated that cases being investigated by the bishops into clerical abuse of minors must be referred to the Cardinal in Rome. Investigators are reminded of the strict confidentiality of such proceedings.

Many see this “secret document” as proving that Cardinal Ratzinger
wanted to silence accusations against the Church and its priests and so led this cover up. For these people it is evidence of the conspiracy. Others - not so many - argue that the then Cardinal was keen on ensuring that abuse allegations were properly investigated.

This worried me, but also puzzled me. We are talking here of a document written in 2001. This was not a time when the secrecy of the Church was being tightened up, but on the contrary when there was definite push for greater accountability and openness. 2001 was the year of the Nolan report. It was a time of rapidly advancing child protection procedures, throughout the Church in England and Wales. Child Protection officers were being appointed in Dioceses and Parishes and we were introducing a process of vetting church workers and clergy - some time before the government’s introduction of the CRB and the renaming of the whole apparatus as ‘Safeguarding’.

And I also remember the way in which allegations came to be treated. Not only were cases taken to the police, but often the reaction of the Church was harsher than that of the civil authorities: I can think of two priests who were suspended after allegations were made. In both cases a police investigation found no case to answer, yet several years later those priests have still not returned to parish ministry.

So, it seems to me, if the smoking gun letter of 2001 was really intended to prevent reporting to the police, then it seems to have been widely and flagrantly disobeyed. And the severe penalty of excommunication, mentioned in the letters also seems, so far as we may know - never to have been imposed.

The document itself appears to be describing ecclesiastical procedures, and the secrecy imposed seems to me at least, to relate to the proceedings of the Church courts. Nowhere do I see a direction that the crimes investigated by the Church may not be reported to the civil authorities, that police investigations should be impeded, nor indeed can I find a claim that the courts of the Church have precedence over the rule of civil law in these kinds of offences.

The Church, or at least many of those in authority, have much to answer for in the culture of secrecy which surrounded these wicked crimes and their perpetrators. But there just isn’t the evidence that this document is the smoking gun many are making it out to be.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Voice of the People?

The Religious Affairs Correspondent of the Times, Ruth Gledhill, has found herself embroiled in some confusion. She appeared to suggest in a published piece, that Pope Benedict had not in fact been elected.
The impression was caused, it is now explained, through the work of the sub-editor, who trimmed down the original piece, rather than being her original intention.

It is a story which neatly intersects several current stories: the rumbling scandal surrounding the Church and sexual abuse in Germany, the forthcoming visit of the Pope to the UK, and the election of a lesbian as the next Episcopalian (i.e. Anglican) bishop in Los Angeles.

It was, however, a recurring comment in Ruth Gledhill’s clarification of her comments on the election of Pope Benedict (and, for that matter, any other Pope) which caught my attention. The process, she remarks, of election by a small number of cardinals is “hardly democratic”.

No it isn’t, and I think every Catholic would agree with that. And it is not intended to be. No doubt it is not a perfect system, and almost every Pope alters the system for his own successor, but in no way is it meant to be “democratic”:
Catholic congregations are excluded, as are their priests, so the Church excludes its members from having a say in who leads them.
This is not democratic. Compare trade unions, political parties, even model railway clubs, stamp collecting societies and meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous.
What goes on behind closed doors before the puffle of white smoke is released is a mystery and is governed by a medieval code of silence. This is scarcely democracy in action.

Pope Benedict XVIThe word “election” means choice, and “democratic” means rule of the people. The appointment of the Pope is not an exercise of the rule of the people - it never was and was never intended to be. The system the Church establishes is intended to be theocratic, not democratic - to discern God’s will for the Church, not to listen to the views, opinions and lobbying of whatever people.

God forbid - literally - that the appointment of a Pope will ever be a choice of the people. It would give rein to campaigning, to manifestos, to mudslinging and to pressure from special interest and lobbying groups. It would impress upon the Church the agenda of the mob, the media rather than the Spirit. It would lead to contemporary rather than timeless choices. It would make us anglicans.

It was the voice of the people which bellowed “Crucify, him!” but the voice of the Father which enjoins us to “listen to him”.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Secular shrinkage?

Two bits of news today suggest the solidity of our secular state may not be as secure as was thought.

1. Catholic Care, the adoption agency for the dioceses of Leeds, Hallam and Middlesborough, has won its case in the High Court to run the agency according to Catholic teaching and is exempted from the new sexual orientation regulations.

2. The petition opposing the Pope's visit, promoted by the British Humanist Association, now has just under 8,000 votes. A rival petition, supporting the visit, today has more than 25,000 signatures, in other words three times as many. An interesting reflection - this seems to mirror exactly the proportion of religious believers (75%) revealed by the most recent census.

It's not all bad news.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Papal Visit: people in Birmingham have souls too!

Well finally the Papal Visit has been announced. The Catholic Church is understandably overjoyed (as is the UK government), the British Humanist Association are equally understandably disappointed, and cyclists - it seems - are concerned about the affect of the visit on the finale of the Tour of Britain. There is a nice bright shiny website - which some Anglicans think is better than many of their own - and a prayer to help us prepare for the visit.

No doubt there are many matters which will get repeated airing in the media - such as the financing of the visit (this is a state visit, but the pastoral elements are expected to cost the Church in England and Wales about £6m) and the general anti-catholic menu of the ‘Protest the Pope’ brigade (which basically boils down to no free speech for those who disagree with them).

The itinerary on the official website for the visit gives thin details (in rather small print) of the major events of the visit, some of which are obviously not yet ready to be fully announced, such as “an event focussing on education”.

But here’s an interesting thing - if you are prepared to follow my reading between the lines.
The itinerary  for Thursday 16th to Sunday 19th September gives the arrival in Scotland and a public mass, a visit to the West Midlands and then a series of impressive state and ecumenical events in London, including visits to Westminster Hall, Lambeth Palace and Westminster Abbey. A simple reading of the itinerary suggests that the Pope will travel south from Scotland, and concluding his visit in the great city of London, stopping off in the Midlands on the way.
But look again. There is no public mass in London, in fact no mention of Mass at all, and it is surely inconceivable that the Holy Father will spend four days in England and not be seen at Mass on Sunday - isn’t it? And isn’t it also unlikely that the public Mass he will be celebrating in England - at Coventry Airport - for the beatification of John Henry Newman - will be on any day other than Sunday? And doesn’t it seem likely that the only public mass in England will be the climax of the visit?

It does - and it will be: the beatification mass - according to our understanding here in the Archdiocese of Birmingham, where planning has been underway for quite some time - will be on Sunday 19th September, at Coventry Airport, the venue used for the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1982.

So how come the visit to the Newman's own Archdiocese of Birmingham is tucked into the middle of the official itinerary?

Well, perhaps it wasn’t. The description of the events in the official press release has a rather different emphasis, and the statement from Buckingham Palace gets the order of events exactly right. And the text of the itinerary says “The Holy Father will also [my emphasis] visit the West Midlands”. A minor point perhaps - but doesn’t the ‘also’ suggest that this was intended to be at the end of the itinerary rather than in the middle?
I wonder if someone in the Archdiocese of Westminster thought it unseemly that the Birmingham Archdiocese be seen to be the climax of the Visit?

However, in Newman's own words - People in Birmingham have souls too.