Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Have SPUC lost the plot?

I notice that SPUC has launched a campaign against gay marriage.

As the more discerning readers of this blog will have noticed, I am not a fan of gay marriage.

However, I do wonder about the wisdom and appropriateness of SPUC launching into this one.

I understand John Smeaton's belief that attacks on marriage are fundamentally attacks on a culture of life: indeed I share that belief.

Nonetheless, given SPUC's remit and declared non-religious nature, I think that this risks leaving many supporters behind, as the amount of catechesis needed to get the average non-Catholic (and probably, alas, the average Catholic) to understand the linkage is immense.

Further, by attacking gay marriage, SPUC is provoking a very vehement counter-attack: they had better be ready for it; and they had better have made sure that every last comma of their position paper and their background briefing is unassailable academically, or they will bring themselves - and the whole pro-life movement by association - into disrepute.

Of course, if the Bishops were leading the charge, John Smeaton would not feel the need to do so.  But I think he needs to be clear: is SPUC's purpose to advance the Pro-Life cause on a non-religious basis, or is it to make up for the deficiencies (real or imagined) of the Bishops in this country? Latterly, a lot of energy seems to have been expended on the second of these alternatives.


Stuart James said...

Oh I'm so glad you blogged on this; you are absolutely bang on the money.

There's just nothing to add this except to say that today on twitter there was general agreement that SPUC shouldn't be moving into this area.

I think they've made a tactical error. Although it's easy enough to understand where they're coming from, it just seems odd for an organisation of this nature to take this on.

My 'gut' feeling is that they are now fighting on different fronts and the link they make between the two issuses feels too stretched and tenuous.

I've seen this widely reported today even within the Anglican interweb.

I hope they have the resources to fight both these battles.

I have my doubts.

Stuart James said...

As I'm given to reading - and thoroughly enjoying - my own wisdom filled comments, upon re-reading this one, I feel I should make a clarification, because I've not been very clear.

When I say it's easy to see where SPUC are coming from, I mean this of course from a Catholic vantage only.

blondpidge said...

You know my thoughts on this. I have emailed one of their supporters my honest critique in the hope they may amend some of the paper.

They don't convincingly make the link between pro-life and gay marriage and this stance could come back to bite all of the pro-life cause in the backside. The pro-aborts aren't inclined to give the benefit of the doubt. Instead they call us all liars and just as Catholic Voices got lumped in with the Christian Institute, everyone else will be confused with SPUC.

On the side of the angels said...

Might I remind everyone that spuc has its own governing council which determines policy and strategy - how they exact and actuate such policies is their own business...

Maybe if Catholic 'pro-Lifers' spent a little less time attacking spuc for 'alienating homosexuals' and a little more time becoming aware of the dire state of the E&W Church's record on Life issues - then perhaps we'd all be better off.

Criticising splinters in others' eyes when we have sherwood forest in ours is more than a little hypocritical...

Ben Trovato said...


If you read what I actually wrote, you will find that I have not criticised SPUC for 'alienating homosexuals'.

As many of us contribute to SPUC, both directly and via collections in Church, I do not think it unreasonable for pro-Life Catholics (and their is no need for the inverted commas - that is merely cheap and offensive) to debate the wisdom of their strategy and to express concern when they believe it to be misguided.

If you have read my blog at all, you will find I am no apologist for the hierarchy which I think is failing us badly in many ways (follow the tag 'bishops' for some clues).

I have read many of your comments on many blogs, on Twitter etc. and there is much on which we agree. However, your style, and sometimes your haste, will lose you many arguments you deserve to win.

Maybe if you read more carefully, before charging into the attack (misrepresenting, insulting and name-calling), we'd all be better off...

Part-time Pilgrim said...

I don't think you can claim that our Bishops are not opposing "Gay Marriage" given that Archbishop Nichols' controversial remarks were made in a statement that was doing just that.

Of course it is quite easy to make a case that the strategy they have adopted is unlikely to impress non-Catholics and likely to confuse the Faithful(and has done so). I hope and pray that they will have learnt from the debacle.

Whilst their Lordships' mistakes are their own, I don't think you can blame them for John Smeaton's lack of judgement.

Clare@ BattlementsOfRubies said...

Terrific post. This really needs to be said, thank you for saying it so well.
I have wanted to post on this myself but feel too snowed under with home duties to get bogged down in it at the moment. I fear that once I dip my toe in it will consume my attention. So I'm confining myself to commenting on other blogs instead.
It is patently silly to imply that the people who are tearing their hair out about this are anaemic, armchair "pro lifers". It is quite obvious that the criticism of SPUC in this instance is coming from people who are passionately committed to defending the rights of the unborn at every opportunity and in myriad ways.
It is crassly foolish to ignore, or write off, what they are saying.

On the side of the angels said...

Ben - I'm sorry but it was not my intention for you to infer I was making any attack against what you said.

What has enraged me is the current situation on twitter and the blogosphere - the prevalence of repeated systematic attacks upon spuc itself which go much further than questioning their mandated position...

[i.e. to adopt an holistic approach towards the Pro-Life cause [in line with humanae vitae] by including a strong defence of marriage and family which axiomatically includes opposition to that which compromises it - like state recognition of same-sex unions as marriage - for the many reasons stated in their document and supporting position paper]

...rather than making any attempt to understand this position [which some have - e.g. Yourself and Stuart above - and consequently have understandably considered questionable and possibly counterproductive]

...instead certain people have decided that it's time to launch an attack against spuc for its lack of transparency/accountability, potential misuse of funds, its failure to redress media accusations against it...
[which might have inadvertently promoted the lie rather than silence it?],
...accusations of nepotism and unnecessarily alienating homosexuals and ultimately personal attacks on the personality of John Smeaton himself and his abuse of his role by enforcing his Catholic agenda within a secularist lobby group.

These individuals are all too ready and willing to attack John Smeaton & spuc but when those [who may in no way have any affiliation with spuc or Smeaton] state that spuc's attacks on the Catholic hierarchy regarding such issues as the Liverpool Care Pathway & Connexions do indeed have some validity - they're basically accused of dissension, treachery and ignorantly defaming our 'obviously innocent' Bishops.

The 'Pro-Lifers' was in inverted commas in reference to the plain and simple fact [as I explained on James Preece's blog] that many who claim to be Pro-Life are 'pro-life' on their own terms and conditions where conspiracy with the culture of death can be quite prevalent on euthanising/eugenic grounds [one need only refer to the parliamentary all-party pro-life group]; while there are some who wilfully and nonchalantly choose to deny there is any compromising of our Catholic hierarchy's Pro-Life credentials and integrity.

I have no qualms whatsoever in understanding your or anyone else's reticence regarding spuc's policy on same-sex marriage - but I feel pretty ashamed and disgusted that this has been used by people bearing long-term grudges [and willing associates] as an excuse to launch a repeated all-out assault against spuc on issues utterly unrelated to this one.

Ben Trovato said...


"Ben - I'm sorry but it was not my intention for you to infer I was making any attack against what you said."

Thank you for the clarification and apology: it does rather reinforce the point I made about your haste and style - for it seems to me not unreasonable to infer that when you comment on a post (and your comments are not labelled as a response to someone else's), that you are... well, commenting on the post...

I have already posted on the SPUC/CV silliness and have little to add, beyond observing that JS seems to me to have provoked the recent bout by broadening out his feud with the poor leadership of CV to impute the integrity of all associated with it. I'm not surprised that they, feeling attacked, counter-attacked (though I lament all sides of that spat). But it is a dynamic we encounter rather frequently in the blogosphere.

I do think it is generally both a dangerous and an uncharitable step to move from: 'I think what you are doing/saying is wrong' (which is often reasonable, even when mistaken) to 'I believe your motives to be bad' which is a judgement we are normally in no position to make of anyone but ourselves....

Ben Trovato said...

P-t P

"I don't think you can claim that our Bishops are not opposing "Gay Marriage" given that Archbishop Nichols' controversial remarks were made in a statement that was doing just that."

Nor did I claim that. What I do claim is that they are not leading the charge. Rather, to continue the metaphor, they seem to me to be mounting a half-hearted rearguard action in a pass they have already surrendered...

Your second paragraph suggests we see this in a similar way.

I do not blame their Lordships for John Smeaton's (or SPCUC's) lack of judgement: but I do think that if they had not left the vacuum, JS and SPUC would not have felt the need to fill it. But the lack of judgement (if such it be) rests with those who made that decision.

Part-time Pilgrim said...

A more accurate (though less colourful) metaphor might be "..they seem to be mounting an ineffective rearguard action rather than boldly attempting to retrieve ground already lost.” I suspect the lack of further comment is due to them realising that a dog’s dinner has been made of the opening skirmish and they don’t yet know how to retrieve the situation. As you said in an earlier post: “The more difficult thing is to convey the Church's teaching clearly, in a way that is completely truthful and completely charitable.” In this case more difficult than the bishops of England and Wales could cope with at least at the first attempt.

Ben Trovato said...

P-t P

You could well be right.

Perhaps I enjoy colourful language too much and over-dramatise to make my points (or there again, perhaps I am understated...)

Stuart James said...

“The more difficult thing is to convey the Church's teaching clearly, in a way that is completely truthful and completely charitable.”

And there it is in a nutshell.