Friday 30 May 2014

Another brother

I found that the guest post by two of my brothers recently was far more popular than my usual scribblings, so I thought I would introduce another of my brothers to my delightful and discerning readership.

This is my most highly professionally qualified brother, a senior psychiatrist.

Non Trovato writes:
I was delighted to help with the drafting of the Royal College of Psychiatrists' statement on sexual orientation.
I am proud that my early studying of the works of George Orwell has finally proved worthwhile, and would like to share some of the highlights of my contribution. 
The Royal College of Psychiatrists considers that sexual orientation is determined by a combination of biological and postnatal environmental factors. There is no evidence to go beyond this and impute any kind of choice into the origins of sexual orientation.
Note how we get over the most difficult bits early on. We could not get away with attributing sexual orientation solely to biological factors, as there is no evidence to support that hypothesis and significant evidence against it. But we undo the potential harm of that admission in the very next sentence, with a couple of techniques that I commend to your attention. 
The first is the 'there is no evidence' claim. Of course that is a lie, so is best placed early.  There is, at least, anecdotal evidence in some cases.  But we choose to discount that, and if challenged can say that by 'no evidence' we mean 'no peer-reviewed academic papers which we deem worthy of taking seriously'. That is quite a tenable position (though we use different standards later in this document, but nobody will notice that).  Moreover, 'there is no evidence' is clearly used here to deny the possibility of choice, rather than leave it hanging as an issue that is not yet sufficiently researched. Clever, eh? 
The second is the careful wording of 'choice into the origins of sexual orientation.' Of course, there are massive choices about how an individual responds to experiencing same sex attraction, but we really don't want to go there.  So without actually denying that, we knock that consideration into the long grass. 
So now  I'm sure you understand why I am particularly proud of that first paragraph! However, there are some other gems. 

The College wishes to clarify that homosexuality is not a psychiatric disorder. In 1973 the American Psychiatric Association (APA) concluded there was no scientific evidence that homosexuality was a disorder and removed it from its diagnostic glossary of mental disorders. The International Classification of Diseases of the World Health Organization followed suit in 1992.
A few clever points here; we replay the no evidence trick, of course, and neglect the philosophical question of what counts as evidence with regards to an issue such as this. The fact that we classify 'eating disorders' as 'disorders' precisely because they work against what eating is, biologically, intended to accomplish is one of the unhelpful facts that we gloss over by this elegant manoeuvre.  We also slide seamlessly between the specific ('psychiatric disorder' on which we are, at least theoretically, competent to judge) to the general 'disorder', touching on another category 'mental disorder' in passing.  It was also clever to boost our credibility by citing the APA and the WHO, regardless of the fact that their policies were driven by ideology, not evidence. 
The College holds the view that lesbian, gay and bisexual people are and should be regarded as valued members of society, who have exactly similar rights and responsibilities as all other citizens. This includes equal access to healthcare, the rights and responsibilities involved in a civil partnership/marriage, the rights and responsibilities involved in procreating and bringing up children, freedom to practise a religion as a lay person or religious leader, freedom from harassment or discrimination in any sphere and a right to protection from therapies that are potentially damaging, particularly those that purport to change sexual orientation.
Another clever paragraph here.  We debated long and hard about whether we could get away with 'exactly similar' and I am glad that my view, inspired by Orwell, prevailed. Some of the more academic types were concerned that it was a nonsense, intellectually, from a scientific body, but I helped them to understand that they were rather missing the point.  The paragraph was also cleverly constructed to start with the unarguable, slip the unjustifiable in along the way, and end on a topic about which, once again, we have some professional authority to comment. You see, the tricky point here is that there is no long term evidence to support the rather improbable assumption that same-sex parenting will be exactly as good as parenting by a heterosexual couple. What evidence we have rather suggests the opposite. 
Again we debated long and hard about 'procreating' but again, my view prevailed: it is the impact of the statement that counts, not the literal meaning.  That was also the outcome of the the debate around the words 'potentially damaging.' Of course, any therapy is potentially damaging; there is risk in all areas of life.  But we wanted to make clear our disapproval of this particular type of therapy, without having to cite any evidence to support that view (and we continue in the next...) 
Leading therapy organisations across the world have published statements warning of the ineffectiveness of treatments to change sexual orientation, their potential for harm and their influence in stigmatising lesbian, gay and bisexual people.  
Again, we faced a challenge.  Evidence is hard to come by, and doesn't always indicate what we want it to, so again we glossed that by the association with reputable others line of argument, and that invaluable (and indisputable) phrase potential for harm.
There is now a large body of research evidence that indicates that being gay, lesbian or bisexual is compatible with normal mental health and social adjustment. However, it is eminently reasonable that the experiences of discrimination in society and possible rejection by friends, families and others (such as employers), means that some lesbian, gay and bisexual people experience a greater than expected prevalence of mental health and substance misuse problems. Lifestyle issues may be important in some gay men and lesbians, particularly with respect to higher rates of substance misuse.
Another elegant paragraph, which manages to explain away the rather tricky data that indicate that the gay lifestyle is harmful. Note the compatibility argument: a lovely piece of casuistry! Having defined homosexuality a priori as not a disorder, we can then argue that it is compatible with normal mental health. Of course, we could do the same with Bulimia if that were politically expedient. Neat, huh?  Moreover, given that a priori assumption, we can then attribute all the data that might challenge that as being the result of other factors; confident that nobody will notice either the sleight of hand or the lack of research references at this point. 
It is not the case that sexual orientation is immutable or might not vary to some extent in a person’s life. Nevertheless, sexual orientation for most people seems to be set around a point that is largely heterosexual or homosexual. Bisexual people may have a degree of choice in terms of sexual expression in which they can focus on their heterosexual or homosexual side.  It is also the case that for people who are unhappy about their sexual orientation – whether heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual – there may be grounds for exploring therapeutic options to help them live more comfortably with it, reduce their distress and reach a greater degree of acceptance of their sexual orientation.  
This paragraph was one of my finest contributions, accepted without change by my colleagues.  It manages to pass over the really inconvenient truth that orientation is not immutable, and then proceed to say almost nothing (which means it is not open to critical challenge) whilst sounding very worthy, and promoting the approved attitudes. Why there is no 'potential for harm' in therapy in this direction, when there is in the opposite one, is a question that only the meanest reader would raise. There is of course no hard evidence in support of that proposition, which makes the opening line of the next paragraph a line of pure beauty and genius: 
The College believes strongly in evidence-based treatment. There is no sound scientific evidence that sexual orientation can be changed. Systematic reviews carried out by both the APA and Serovich et al suggest that studies which have shown conversion therapies to be successful are seriously methodologically flawed. 
The joy of nuance! 'Sound' 'suggest'
Furthermore, so-called treatments of homosexuality can create a setting in which prejudice and discrimination flourish, and there is evidence that they are potentially harmful. The College considers that the provision of any intervention purporting to ‘treat’ something which is not a disorder is wholly unethical. 
And again: 'can' 'potentially.' And the beautiful circularity of 'we have decided a priori it is not a disorder, therefore it is wrong to treat it as though it is one.'  I was really getting into my stride here! 
The College would not support a therapy for converting people from homosexuality any more than we would do so from heterosexuality. Psychiatrists should be committed to reducing inequalities, not supporting practices that are explicitly based on pathologising homosexuality. As such, the College remains in favour of legislative efforts to ban such conversion therapies. 
And onto the moral highground. The shift from science to propaganda is an elegant manoeuvre, which few, if any, will spot. 
Good Psychiatric Practice clearly states: ‘A psychiatrist must provide care that does not discriminate and is sensitive to issues of gender, ethnicity, colour, culture, lifestyle, beliefs, sexual orientation, age and disability’ (p. 12). The College expects all its members to follow Good Psychiatric Practice.

In my excitement at receiving my brother's fascinating commentary, I forgot to credit Peter Ould, whose post drew this to my attention, and @PartTimePilgrim who drew my attention to Peter Ould's post.

Thursday 29 May 2014

Ascension Day

Ascendit Deus in iubilatione, et Dominus in voce tubae, Alleluia, alleluia!

The Ascension is one of the more complex events to understand. But the aspect I am reflecting on today is the fact that it visibly expresses the Father's acceptance of the Son's sacrifice, thus completing it.

This is clearly in line with the pattern in the Old Testament; and also, as Fr Hunwicke pointed out recently, with the theology of the Roman Canon (in contrast with the new Eucharistic Prayers composed in the 1960s ff).

Sunday 25 May 2014

Was 'Shameful' overstating it?

Was I too harsh in my last post, saying the bishops' failure to teach was shameful?

I have been reflecting on this, not least in the wake of the various comments others have offered.

I ignore, for the while, the cries of homophobia and ignorance from some quarters, as they are not germane to what I have to say.  But others have made other criticisms.  Caroline Farrow (@blondpidge) has said on Twitter that the bishops' letter was not a teaching document, a point picked up by Ed Rennie (@riverflows77), who has pointed out that the issue of same sex attraction is complicated, and sent me links to a good article and a well-produced and largely sound video on the subject. (I say largely sound: the astonishing claim that Our Lord was 'non-judgemental' is one that always leaves my jaw hanging.  Do people not read the Gospels at all?)

These puzzled me slightly, as they seemed meant (by Ed) to help with a problem that I don't think I have: viz understanding that people really struggle with this issue.

I was not calling for the persecution of anyone, other than the bishops if calling them to account can be called persecuting.  Likewise, despite Ed's claim to the contrary, I was not calling for an over-simplification of the issue. So I was not sure why I was deemed in need of such help.

What I was calling for was clear episcopal teaching on this issue; and my anger at the bishops' letter is best understood when looked at in the larger context of their failure to teach on this, and related important issues, for decades.

I understand why it is hard to teach on this issue: as a society we have reached a crisis wherein traditional understandings of the family, of moral truths, and even of the notion of truth itself have been eroded.

Indeed, the same is true, to some extent, within the Catholic Church.

In the face of this, it seems to me that the bishops have a duty to teach, and to teach clearly. Ed maintains that they can't do so as they do not have a clear understanding themselves.  If that is the case, it does not excuse them. As teachers, they have the responsibility first to learn. The wisdom, truth and charity of the Church are readily available to them.

Moreover, I think that we have reached this point in the Church, and to some extent in society beyond the Church, precisely because they have failed to teach.

I don't mean just banging on about the evils of homosexual acts. I agree that in itself that would accomplish little. It goes much deeper than that. 

The reason that the bishops have been unable, collectively, to speak clearly on this is their failure to speak clearly on other issues.  One can trace the line back: abortion, contraception, divorce... and back further: sin, original sin, the Devil...  And failing to teach these, has also meant that they have not been able effectively to promote a distinctly Catholic, and positive, vision of human love, marriage, the family and vocation.

Since Humanae Vitae, it seems that they have been running scared: clearly not just the present bishops, but many of their predecessors.  We have had almost no clear and authentically Catholic teaching from the Conference. The recent pontiffs have tried hard to stop the erosion of Catholicity: Paul Vl with Humanae Vitae, the Credo of the People of God, the promotion of Chant; John Paul ll with the Catechism, Familiaris Consortio, Veritatis Splendor and many other teaching documents; Benedict XVl from the start to the end of his pontificate.  Yet much that came from Rome seemed to be ignored or downplayed: some was even deemed not relevant to the English situation. The orthodoxy of much that came from Rome seemed an embarrassment - really not very English...

Of course, what they want to preach is that we are an Easter People.  The joy and glory of the Redemption is indeed the heart and soul of the Catholic Faith. But unless we understand the need for Redemption, it is wholly inexplicable.

That is why the Churches empty: instead of the huge drama of creation, the Fall, sin, suffering, the Incarnation, the call to repentance, the Cross and Redemption, we hear little that we could not read in the average Guardian editorial 

Our feast days have been demoted, our sacramental practices have been watered down, (and especially the sacrament of Penance), heterodox newspapers are allowed to call themselves Catholic and are sold in our Cathedrals and Churches, and generations have been denied a Catholic education of any substance.  Just to take one example, when did you last hear anything about Sanctifying Grace?...

This latest document, which risks teaching implicitly that the Church accepts homosexual partnerships (not chaste friendships) as some kind of moral good, is the latest in a long line of failures.

No, I do not think that my judgement on the CBCEW's collective failure to teach was overstated.

I should make it clear that I do not believe the bishops to be bad men. Indeed, individually, some of them do take a stand and teach courageously.  But there is something about the collegial approach (and I suspect the people who surround them, and the bureaucracy in which they are emerged) which has completely emasculated the Conference as a collective body.

Pray for them, and for the whole Church.

Friday 23 May 2014

The Gay Identity (2)

A while back I posted on the Gay Identity, and realised at the time that there was more to say on the subject. So here, at last, are some further reflections.

As I have had occasion to remark before, this is not a subject that I particularly like to write about. However, it is important to do so, because it is at the forefront of the attack on Christian morality.

What has stirred me to get around to this follow up post is the CBCEW's (Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales) latest outpouring on the topic.

They write, inter alia, 'There are those lesbian and gay Catholics who have entered into civil partnerships in order to secure important and necessary legal rights...'  Stop right there.

Do you see what has happened?

Catholic bishops, no less, have accepted the notion of 'lesbian and gay Catholics' as being an accurate and legitimate descriptor.

I think that is immensely damaging, and betrays a complete corruption of thought.

My previous post explains why such identification is problematic at the level of ideas.  Here I want to turn to why it is harmful (apart from the fundamental Catholic understanding that any offence against veritas is by definition an offence agains caritas).

Imagine that I have a predilection towards adultery, for example.  Imagine further that I claim I was born that way, and that there is evidence of people with such predilection throughout history. In fact, I conclude, (to my own satisfaction at least) it is my identity, an essential part of who I am.  I give this new sexual identity a nice user-friendly name, let us say 'Cheery.'

Imagine further that I manage to convince others of this new Cheery sexual identity. Surprise surprise: many people will start to identify themselves as naturally Cheery, as well. This is no longer a temptation to be overcome, but an identity to be celebrated. In fact, those who disagree are clearly bigoted hate-mongers.  My Cheery behaviour doesn't stop them being monogamous, after all... well maybe it does, if I get my way, but only in a small number of cases...

And then imagine that the CBCEW issues a statement starting: 'There are those Cheery Catholics who have entered into civil partnerships in order to secure important and necessary legal rights...'

We would be shocked, and rightly so.

The recognition of the fiction of the Gay identity as though it corresponds to some ontological reality is not a victimless crime.

The victims, amongst others, are young people who, going through the complex emotional and psychological processes that accompany puberty and adolescence, are sold the lie that they are Gay; also the young people who are sold the associated lie that they are in the wrong body for their 'real' gender and have 'corrective' surgery (increasingly starting at unbelievably early ages); and so on; also those who do suffer from immutable same sex attraction, who are sold the lie that it is a moral good to indulge that attraction.

In fact we are all victims, when lies are enshrined as truth in our society.

Our bishops have a mandate to teach the truth, in season and out of season. In this regard, they are failing shamefully.

Sancte Michael Archangele, defende nos in proelio, 
contra nequitiam et insidias diaboli esto praesidium. 
Imperet illi Deus, supplices deprecamur: 
tuque, Princeps militiae caelestis, 
Satanam aliosque spiritus malignos, 
qui ad perditionem animarum pervagantur in mundo, 
divina virtute, in infernum detrude. 

Sunday 18 May 2014

A Right Charlie

So Charlie did a couple of re-sits last week, with his A2s starting this week.

Does he deserve good results?  I'll let you be the judge.  Here's what he told me about his philosophy paper this week.

'It was terrible.  Towards the end, I needed to blow my nose, so I put my hand in my pocket for a hanky.  And I found I had my notes in my pocket. It was too late into the exam to tell the invigilator: I'd already written two really good essays, and didn't want them discounted. So the only thing to do was to eat my notes.  So I tore them up and ate them bit by bit.'


You might remember him in your prayers.

Sunday 11 May 2014

A Sense of Sin

It seems to me that, underlying Cardinal Kasper's comments, is a notion of sin that is very different from mine.

I am not, as I have observed before, a trained theologian.  So if I make any gross errors, I rely on my readers to correct me (as they have done in the past).  

So here I am thinking out loud about why I find Cardinal Kasper's approach so worrying.  If I understand him correctly, he is saying two things.  One is that many marriages many be null, due to lack of understanding. That may be the case: the Church has a process for that, so we need discuss it no further here, beyond saying that the assumption of validity unless proven otherwise is clearly an imperative of both justice and good practice.

But the other type of case to which he seems to refer is the one where a valid marriage has irretrievably broken down, and one of the spouses has set up house, and had children with, someone else. Leaving aside his unfortunate words about heroism, I want to focus on something else.

The gist of his argument seems to be that it is unreasonable to expect someone to stop living in an intimate relationship with such a partner, and that mercy demands a different solution.

The problem with that argument, as I see it, is that it ignores the damaging effect of sin.

We have it on Our Lord's authority, as well as from the witness of the Old Testament, and the authority and tradition of the Church for two millenia, that sexual relations outside marriage are a serious sin.

Clearly, in the modern situation, the culpability of individuals may be minimal. Poor teaching, social pressures and so on may combine to ensure that an individual really does not believe he or she is doing something wrong. So the conditions for mortal sin may not be met.

However, we cannot simply say that there is therefore no problem.  We believe that sin damages people - by its very nature. 

One may in all innocence drink poison mistaking it for water - and be wholly innocent of the crime of self-harm.  Yet one will still be sick or die.  Subjective innocence does not protect us from all the harmful effects of objective sin.

So Cardinal Kasper may think that the kind thing to do is to accept people in their real situations; but the Church has never taught that. Following Christ, we preach the reality of sin, and the necessity of repentance and conversion.

That is one reason why Cardinal Kasper's proposals are so dangerous: they risk teaching people (who already have a natural interest in self-deception) the lie that their objective sin is, in fact, harmless.  We know that not to be the case, and in all charity to those in such situations, we are called to bear witness to that truth.

And that is without even starting to consider all the other harms Cardinal Kasper's proposals will inevitably lead to: injustices to spouses, to children, and not least to those who have obeyed what, heretofore, everyone knew the teaching of the Church to be.


I am tempted to say that this fear of considering the reality of personal sin is typical of many in the Church of today.  But unless we acknowledge the reality of sin, and the fact that it destroys us, we can have no need of a Saviour. And if we have no need of a Saviour, the Catholic Church is nothing more than a deluded do-gooding social club.  That is not what I believe.

Saturday 10 May 2014

Welcoming Cardinal Kasper's Pastoral Solicitude

I invited a couple of my brothers to comment on Cardinal Kasper's pastoral solicitude.  First, my eldest brother, Mal Trovato:
I have long been saddened at the attitude of the Official Church, which would seek to exclude me. Fortunately, round here in Sicily, their influence is rather less than mine, and the local parish is very accommodating. However, Cardinal Kasper seems to be opening the door to a more welcoming approach from the Institutional Church. 
It was not, after all, my fault that I was born into the Trovato family. And I admit that finishing off my father was wrong: I have long repented that, and have had many Masses said.  But now that I am the head of the family, I have responsibilities; with many people under my protection.  So it is absurd to suggest that I should walk away from my responsibilities.  Not only do I have a wife and children to support, but the wider family, and many other colleagues and collaborators.  
Indeed, I have undertaken solemn promises (eg omertá) which have some similarities to religious vows, which I could not, in good conscience, break. Moreover, were I to do so, it would cause significant harm to many others: not only members of the family, but also politicians, police officials, and countless local businesses. 
So it is good that the Cardinal has seen the practicalities of the situation, and recognises that the best solution is to recognise that, whilst extortion, corruption and murder may, technically, be against the rules of the Church, in fact I am doing the best that can be expected of me in the situation in which I find myself.
Secondly, my other brother,  who prefers simply to be known as Il Dottore:
When I trained as a doctor, it was not with the intention of becoming a specialist in late-term abortions. However, I lost my job at the hospital, and I had a wife and children to support.  So I took a job running a clinic that specialised in abortions, as I had responsibilities to my family.  I accept that I should not have taken the job, and indeed repent of having done so. 
However, that is now the only way I have to make a living, so it is clearly absurd to expect me to give it up.  It is wonderful to learn that Cardinal Kasper is finding ways to bring mercy into this situation, and allow me back into full communion with the Church. I am more than happy to confess that I should not have taken the job, if that is what it takes. 
I was also heartened by the thought that the Cardinal would discern in my work elements of the work of doctors who save lives. That is a truly pastoral perspective that brings me peace of mind and great joy.

Sancte Michael Archangele,
defende nos in proelio;
contra nequitiam et insidias diaboli esto praesidium.
Imperet illi Deus, supplices deprecamur:
tuque, Princeps militiae Caelestis,
satanam aliosque spiritus malignos,
qui ad perditionem animarum pervagantur in mundo,
divina virtute in infernum detrude.

Tuesday 6 May 2014

Hammering Heretics

As you can imagine, I am a fan of hammering heresy.

Hammering heretics is perhaps a slightly different matter.

I will leave that thought hanging for a bit, and digress. If I remember, I will return to it at the end of this post.

I have been distressed at the coverage on much of the Catholic blogosphere of the whole Protect the Pope saga.

There has been a quick, and I would suggest tribal, reaction: ' Bad bishops.... censorship... abuse of power... lies...'

All that started before the explanation issued by +Campbell, and that explanation was then read and interpreted through that hermeneutic.

However, the facts are limited, and the interpretations that could be placed on them are many and varied.  For that reason - in fact in simple justice - I have taken to pointing out some of the fallacies in the argument, and suggesting there could be another interpretation.

Of course, the risk in all this is that I could b seen to be 'siding with the bishop against Deacon Nick.' One commentator (Geoffrey Sales, on Jessica Hoff's blog) had the gall to suggest that I was imbued with the culture of CBCEW (though  to be fair, he later looked at my blog and I think took a different view).

I don't really want to side with anyone on this, as we don't know the facts.  If I have stood up for the bishop it is because I have seen him unjustly maligned and demonised. Nick, it seems, needs no such defender in me, as there are so many others rushing to his support. However, if in my efforts to point out that there are readings of this affair which paint the bishop in a better light, I have unjustly denigrated Nick, I truly apologise: that is not my intention.

Nonetheless, I risk doing so again, as I believe that, in justice, the point must be made: we simply do not know enough about this affair to say the bishop is as bad as he is being painted - or indeed bad at all.

The issue is complicated, but many seem to have reduced it to an idiotic simplicity. I am afraid that James Preece, for example (with whom I have a great degree of sympathy on so many issues) has done so here

So I would like to spend a little more time on this, and look at the story from two quite different points of view.  Of course, what follows is an imaginative exercise, merely designed to show that the same set of incidents can be seen very differently by people of good faith.  I do not presume to speak for either Deacon Nick or the Bishop, and am sure that each would write a very different account of the affair than the ones I offer.  But, as I say, my design is to  show that the same set of incidents can be seen very differently by people of good faith.

On the one hand, I can imagine from Nick's point of view it could look something like this:
He set up Protect the Pope to provide a forum for supporting the Holy Father prior to, and during, his visit to the UK, in the face of an almost unprecedented anti-Catholic media frenzy.  By presenting a Catholic view, backed up by substantive facts and the undermining of the claims of the Holy Father's detractors, he accomplished a great deal. Catholics at least, and many fair-minded observers, were able to see that most of the attacks on Pope Benedict and the Church were at best ill-informed, and often worse. 
His blog attracted a very significant following, which demonstrated that there was a real appetite for this, both in the UK and abroad.
After the papal visit, he continued to make the case for orthodox Catholicism, defending it from enemies without, and also on occasion, from those within the Church who were undermining or diluting it. 

With the arrival of Pope Francis, problems within the Church became more acute. Dissident voices, such as ACTA, were given new courage, and it seemed some in the hierarchy were turning a blind eye to their subversion, or even colluding with it. And nobody seemed to be doing anything about that.  So, whilst recognising that this would be unpopular and risky, he decided to shine a light on that too, including naming those in positions of authority who were not doing as they should. 

There were howls of outrage from the usual suspects, and a number said that they were going to complain to the bishop about the blog. 

Then, suddenly, the bishop suspends the blog temporarily.  Moreover, when a period has passed, he extends the suspension and adds that nobody else should post to it either. 

Everyone can see what's going no here, as the comments of support on the blog, twitter and other blogs make quite clear.

On the other hand, I can imagine from the Bishop's point of view, it could look something like this.

He had heard that Deacon Nick had set up a blog to defend the Pope, and that it was very successful.  He congratulated Nick. 

Some time later, he received a number of complaints from different sources, saying that Nick was over-stepping the mark, and posting unjustified attacks on named individuals, including members of the Hierarchy, as well as hosting a range of very uncharitable comments in the combox.  Examples were provided that seemed to justify these concerns. 

He asked one of his staff to have a quiet word with Nick about it, but the concerns remained and further examples were sent that suggested no change of approach.  It was also pointed out that the blog had a huge readership, internationally, so it was a matter of some importance to get this right. 

He therefore asked Nick to pause from blogging, and to reflect on how he used, and allowed others to use, the blog. That was a private conversation, and the hope was that Nick would take some time out, to pray and reflect, and later they could agree on how best the blog could be used. 

Whilst Nick desisted from posting on the blog, two unforeseen things happened. One was that his wife took up the mantle, and the blog carried on much as before.  The second was that Nick took to other social media, including publicising a large number of comments to the effect that the Bishop had closed down the blog because of Nick's defense of orthodoxy.  

That was scarcely the period of prayer and reflection that the Bishop had had in mind; indeed, it confirmed the bishop's view that so intense a focus on seeking out heresy and heretics had not been good for Nick's judgement.  So when Nick asked if he could resume blogging, the bishop suggested that the period of prayer and reflection should be extended. 

Nick then announced that he would stop blogging for good, and that the the Bishop had effectively closed down the blog.  The volume and hostility of the blogosphere intensified, vilifying the bishop. 

The bishop issued a statement to point out that he had not, in fact, closed down the blog. For obvious reasons, he did not include his view that Nick's judgement was temporarily a bit impaired, as such a judgement is by its nature confidential, and also because in the climate of the blogosphere, it would have been wide open to misrepresentation. That statement was interpreted in the most negative way possible by those determined to see this as yet another example of 'the bishops' colluding with liberals and persecuting the orthodox.

But the Bishop has no case, the cry goes up.  Nick has only ever blogged from an orthodox point of view, and naming those doing wrong is surely both justifiable and necessary.

To that I would reply that other orthodox bloggers had raised concerns about one or two (and only one or two) of Nick's posts before this incident. See Patricius, here, and me, here, for example.

Let me re-state: I am not saying that either account is right or wrong.  I suspect both to be right in some aspects and wrong in others, as I do not have full access to the facts, and still less to the intentions of the protagonists.  My point is simply this: neither does anyone else.  For which reason, the rush to judgement of the bishop, and in particular the imputation to him of malign motives, is quite unjust.

I promised to return to the hammer.  It has been wisely said that to a man with a hammer, every problem is a nail.  The risk is that to a man on a mission to hammer heresy, every disagreement reveals a heretic.

Saturday 3 May 2014

More on the Protect the Pope saga...

I live in the diocese of Lancaster, along with +Campell and Deacon Nick.   I am no apologist for bishops behaving badly (as a brief look at items tagged 'bishops' in my blog will confirm).  However, I think that our Bishop, +Campbell, has been misunderstood, and even misrepresented and defamed by many on the blogosphere over this.

It is all too easy to say that Nick is being closed down because of his orthodoxy: but there is no evidence for that view, unless one has already judged the Bishop to be an enemy of orthodoxy. The technical term for that is prejudice.

In fact, the Bishop makes clear that he had concerns over the tone of Nick's blog, and particularly the combox.  He asked Nick to carry on with his good work, but ensure that due charity was observed, as he is an ordained deacon.  He believed that was not happening, so asked Nick to pause, reflect and pray.  Nick asked him if he could resume, and +Campbell said the period of prayer and reflection was not yet over. 

Nick, it seems, then decided to close the blog, and to announce that the Bishop had closed it.  Nick also, on Twitter and Facebook, publicised a very large number of hostile commentaries, accusing his bishop of all manner of things: and I think the bishop's impatience with that approach is also discernible in his statement.

I like Nick, and I like his blog: but even his best friend could hardly claim it was completely innocent of the charge of ad hominem attacks and uncharitable comments, particularly in the Combox, for which the blog owner is responsible.

One might disagree with the Bishop's judgement over this, but for myself, I am pleased that a Bishop takes seriously his responsibility for what ordained ministers do and say in his diocese: I only wish many more would do so, with particular reference to heretics and dissenters.

I think this has been compounded by a failure of communication: Nick seems still to be unclear why he was asked to pause; and that clearly does not help.  

However, what has helped much less has been the rush to judgement on the bishop by so many, with so much noise; in particular, the misrepresentation in the press and on the blogosphere.  It is not difficult to put oneself in the Bishop's shoes and imagine what that must look like.

It should be noted that Bishop Campbell is no liberal time-server.  He encourages Confession with his 'The Light is On for You' project; he has invited excellent and orthodox nuns into the University Chaplaincy; he hosts a monthly Traditional Mass in the Cathedral (and continued it when he had a first-class excuse to stop it) and has even invited the Institute of Christ the King (dedicated to the Traditional Mass) to run a large and prestigious Church in Preston.

I personally have been astonished at the unthinking and visceral nature of the attack on Bishop Campbell by so many, including many whose views I normally take seriously, and whom I regard as online friends. I think it is most unhelpful to the cause of orthodox Catholicism to start with the assumption that every Bishop is a liar and an enemy - and in this case, simply not true.  I understand, and indeed share, the sense of betrayal that is the legacy of so many poor (and worse) decisions by so many in the hierarchy over the years: but we should nonetheless proceed with both charity and a degree of intelligence!

By all means go after Bishops who are remiss (with caritas and veritas in due proportion, of course) - but let us not savage those who are doing so much better than so many of their peers.

Thursday 1 May 2014

The Apostle in Lancaster

Bishop Michael Campbell, the successor of the apostles in Lancaster, my home diocese, is coming in for a lot of criticism on the Catholic blogosphere at present.

That has been sparked by the controversy over the suspension of the Protect the Pope blog, about which I have blogged previously (here).

Deacon Nick has behaved in an exemplary fashion in his obedience to his bishop.  He has also made it clear both that the media reporting of the incident (eg in The Tablet) has been error-strewn, and also that he finds it very frustrating to read people's assumptions.

So my plea is this: let us not assume anything about this situation. Nick is clearly not able to say much about it; the bishop has said very little (and he may have good reasons for that).  Yet many on the Catholic blogosphere assume that they know the bishop's motives and that they were not good: he has been explicitly accused of injustice, and implicitly of much besides.

But I know that +Campbell is not some liberal time server.  He has done much that orthodox Catholics should applaud.  He encourages Confession actively with his "the Light is on for you" project.  He allows a monthly Sunday Mass in the EF in his Cathedral, and is attending a High Mass (EF) in the near future. He has invited two excellent nuns in to support the University Chaplaincy at Lancaster, which has recently hosted a Plainchant workshop for students...

Nor is he under the thumb of the CBCEW. Do you imagine he wins many plaudits there by inviting the Institute of Christ the King to run a parish in Preston?

I think it is unhealthy for Catholics to assume a bishop to be malign based on insubstantial information, and most unhelpful for them then to make a lot of noise to that effect.

We do not know what has happened behind the scenes with regard to the Protect the Pope blog. We may find out, in due course, and if +Campbell has behaved poorly I will shout as loudly as everyone.  But we don't know that he has, and it is both unjust and imprudent to assume that he has.  There are other possible explanations that reflect well on him, without denigrating the good work Deacon Nick has done.  I won't enumerate them, as Nick has made it clear he does not like reading such assumptions, and I think his reasonable wishes in that regard should be honoured.

For myself, I think my bishop deserves to be regarded as innocent until proven guilty; and moreover, honoured and supported for the good (and in some cases courageous) steps he has taken.