Tuesday 31 March 2015

What is at stake?

This weekend, in an unprecedented display of solidarity, 30 of the UK's lay Catholic blogs posted the same post, requesting people to sign a letter in support of the letter signed by 451 priests, in defence of a Catholic understanding of marriage.

The cause of this outbreak of fraternal solidarity in a community which has not always be dominated by mutual admiration, is the seriousness of the crisis we face.

At the Synod in the Autumn, we have every reason to believe that a small number of Cardinals will be pushing their agenda, to admit the divorced and 'remarried' to Holy Communion.

That matters. In the first place, it matters because of what it says about marriage: that a valid, consummated marriage is not life-long and dissoluble only by death. At a time when marriage is being redefined out of existence in secular society, it is scarcely credible that any Cardinal of the Church should think this a good idea. But some do.

In the second place, it matters because it attacks the Eucharist. The implicit message is that the Eucharist is about communion with the community: we must not (horror of horrors) exclude anyone. But we know the reality is that the Eucharist is about communion with Christ (and thereby with each other): that unless we are committed to striving to conform ourselves to Christ (that is repenting of our sins and struggling against them) then we receive Holy Communion at our great peril.

But there is more. This movement also attacks the very foundations of the Church. We believe the Church to be One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. This movement undermines each of those four marks of the Church.

The unity of the Church is visibly attacked by those German bishops who proclaim that they will go down this path regardless of what the Synod fathers say. Such a unilateral declaration of independence is a grave sin against the unity of the Church. So, too, is any distinction created between the Church's teaching and her practice: that would wound the integrity of the Church.

The Holiness of the Church is attacked by this proposal because her holiness derives from her identity as the mystical body of Christ. Yet if she were to separate herself from Christ, who clearly stated that whoever divorces and remarries commits adultery, then she would separate herself from holiness.

The Catholicity of the Church is, in part, seen in her being the teacher of truth for all peoples, in all places, at all times. Were she to allow tomorrow what she has always proclaimed gravely sinful, that claim to Catholicity would be corrupted.

The Apostolic nature of the Church is precisely her function of handing on to each new generation the Faith received from the Apostles. That includes such unfashionable sentiments as 'For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord.' To contradict that is to deny the Apostolic nature of the Church.

And then there are the effects of such a move. Who can doubt that, however much it be motivated by compassion in hard cases, it would lead, as every liberalising move ever made has always led, to an abandonment of the principle at stake.

The price will be paid by women abandoned by their husband, and men abandoned by their wife; and above all by children, deprived of proper parenting, and of any understanding that human love can, with the grace of God, endure and grow, if fidelity is made primary, above sentimental notions of love.

So the stakes are high: if you have not yet signed the letter, please do so now.

Sunday 29 March 2015

In support of our priests, our families, and our Church

You may have seen the recent letter from more than 450 priests in support of the Church’s teaching on marriage.

We would like to invite you to sign the letter below, to be sent to the press in support of them, and to encourage others to sign it.

To sign, please leave your name and your diocese in the comments box below, or if you prefer email them to me or to one of the coordinators:

The Letter:

Dear Sir,

We, the undersigned, wish to endorse and support the letter signed by over 450 priests in the recent edition of the Catholic Herald.

As laity, we all know from our own family experiences, or those of our friends and neighbours, the harrowing trauma of divorce and separation, and we sympathise with all those in such situations.

It is precisely for that reason that we believe that the Church must continue to proclaim the truth about marriage, given us by Christ in the Gospels, with clarity and charity in a world that struggles to understand it.

For the sake of those in irregular unions, for the sake of those abandoned and living in accordance with the teachings of the Church, and above all for the sake of the next generation, it is essential that the Church continues to make it quite clear that sacramental marriage is indissoluble until death.

We pray, and expect, that our hierarchy will represent us, and the Church’s unwavering teaching, at the Synod this autumn.

 Yours faithfully, 

Wednesday 25 March 2015

Cardinal Nichols' Rebuke

I read Cardinal Nichols' rebuke to the brave priests with interest and puzzlement. How was he, I wondered to myself, going to tell priests off for fulfilling an essential part of their vocation: viz, proclaiming the Gospel?

A tricky task, one might think.

But not for Cardinal Nichols. He is up to any such challenge. Here is his statement, as quoted in the Catholic Herald:
Every priest in England and Wales has been asked to reflect on the Synod discussion. It is my understanding that this has been taken up in every diocese, and that channels of communication have been established. 
The pastoral experience and concern of all priests in these matters are of great importance and are welcomed by the Bishops. Pope Francis has asked for a period of spiritual discernment. This dialogue, between a priest and his bishop, is not best conducted through the press.
So the naughtiness of the priests is not proclaiming the Gospel (phew) nor even, apparently, doing so in the public forum (phew again) but rather using the press as the channel of dialogue with their bishops.

That might seem reasonable enough (heavens, it might even be reasonable enough) if  this letter were addressed to the bishops; or even if the priests had good reason to believe the bishops would listen to private dialogue; or even if the bishops themselves were reflecting prayerfully on all this. But none of those conditions is clearly met.  

In the first case, the letter is more of a public proclamation of loyalty to Christ, His Church and its teaching (and why would any bishop object to that?) than anything else. True, it concluded with an exhortation to all those attending the Synod - but that group is by no means the same as the bishops of these priests. Only three from England and Wales are attending; and many others from many other nations are. 

The second issue is sadder; it seems that many priests, perhaps with good reason, do not believe that the bishops listen to private dialogue. 

And as for the third, it seems that Cardinal Nichols has already gone public with his view, contra the Bible, the Catechism, Tradition and just about everything else, that divorced and remarried people could be readmitted to Communion under certain conditions, according to The Pill.

Some of the more cynical amongst us wonder if the real problem is that the Cardinal and the Conference like to control the narrative, and that control has been wrested from them by the internet, much as samizdat broke the Party's control of communication in the USSR.

And who knows where that might lead? Why, even the laity may forget to hold their tongue, and start demanding that the Faith be taught and lived: and then where would we be?

Brave Priests

I was very heartened to read the letter sent by over 450 priests to the Catholic Herald. This was a brave move, especially in the light of the reports that there 'has been a certain amount of pressure not to sign the letter and indeed a degree of intimidation from some senior Churchmen.'

I was also heartened to note the range and variety of the signatories: there were names expected and less expected, and representing all areas of the nation (as far as I could tell) and, particularly importantly, all age groups. To my knowledge some of these brave priests are very long serving, working well past retirement age, in the service of their people and their God.  Others are recently ordained, showing that this is not some old-fashioned idea, but something the younger generation see with equal clarity. And many are in between: mature men of mature faith. Likewise there were Benedictines, Jesuits, Dominicans and so on, as well as secular priests.

Furthermore, I know of priests who did not sign but would have done so had they received the invitation (the database used was imperfect, like just about every other database...) and I suspect others (including my PP) simply didn't get through their mail in time, given the huge workload many face.

So pray for them all; and pray that the laity are similarly zealous in informing their bishops of the importance of this issue: and write to your bishop.

I end by quoting Fr Finigan (see his full post here):

'One or two lay people have asked if a letter could be organised for laity to sign. I would recommend lay people to keep in touch with Voice of the Family and to share ideas with them because they are a specifically lay group. Priests and laity each have their own important apostolates

Anybody, priest or lay faithful, who agrees with the priests' letter can help by using their own social media channels to publicise the letter and speak to others about the key points in it.

It is also open to every member of the Christian Faithful (clerics and laity) to manifest their concerns to the Holy See. Here are two possible addresses to write to:

HE Lorenzo Cardinal Baldisseri
Secretary General, Synod of Bishops
Palazzo del Bramante
Via della Conciliazione, 34
00193 Roma

HE Gerhard Ludwig Cardinal Müller
Prefect for The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
Piazza del S. Uffizio, 11
00193 Rome Italy
email: cdf@cfaith.va'

Saturday 21 March 2015

Self Harm - A Pastoral Approach

I was delighted to read of a new initiative, the Self Harm Initiative for Teachers, designed to instruct teachers on how to deliver lessons on safe self-cutting.

As its proponents point out, many children will self harm, and Just Saying No doesn't work, so it is important to teach them how to do it in a way that minimises risk.

It is also important, of course, to reach them before they start to cut themselves. It is too late once they have infected themselves by using unsterile blades etc.  We much reach them while they are young.

A judgemental attitude will only serve to drive self-harmers underground, and may cause them to be bullied or stigmatised for their lifestyle choices, which is wholly unacceptable.

Some critics may argue that teaching about safe self-harm in the class room risks putting ideas into their heads.  Such naive people have clearly never looked at the internet, where hashtags like #cutterforlife demonstrate how widespread this issue is. It is ridiculous to imagine that children will not be exposed to this.

Likewise, the distribution of clean blades to all kids has raised questions in some quarters; but as the Select Committee pointed out, there is little point telling children not to use dirty blades unless they are provided with a safe alternative.

So I applaud this worthy initiative, and hope that self-harm lessons will become mainstream, and eventually compulsory, for all children, before too many more children die from infected wounds.



I have been told that this post may be misunderstood, so I think it incumbent on me to offer a word of clarification.

I wrote this as a satire on the current approach to Sex Education in this country.

I do not, of course, wish to denigrate those who seek to help children who cut themselves, by teaching them some strategies to reduce risk. Rather my point was two-fold.

Firstly, that strategies for the minority who are taking part in risky and aberrant behaviour should not be imposed on the majority who are not, in the name of prevention.  It normalises the problem behaviour, and if done in a non-judgemental style, teaches that it is in fact acceptable (or pace Brook, praise-worthy). There is thus the likelihood of creating the very problem we are trying to solve.

Secondly, that self-harm is rightly recognised as 'bad.' That is, a judgement is made of the behaviour (not of the individuals)  - that it is against their own and others' interests if they hurt themselves, even if they want to do so; and the educational and support strategy is predicated on that understanding. I think that the same should be the case with regard to children indulging in sexual activity, as it is clearly bad for them, as countless studies have demonstrated.

Friday 20 March 2015

When Rights Collide

The story of Ashers Bakery in Northern Ireland is well worth following.  A homosexual activist approached this Christian company and asked them to decorate a cake with a message in support of same sex marriage. They politely declined. The full weight of the system is now being brought down on them, via the Equality Commission.

Here you can see and hear the general manager of this family firm explain their position, and ask for prayers, both for them and those who persecute them.

If you wish to sign a letter in support of the bakery and their principled position, you may do so here.

This case opens up a fascinating, if fraught, legal minefield. According to the Christian Institute (here) Aidan O'Neill QC states that if Ashers loses there would also be no defence to similar actions being taken against other businesses in any of the following scenarios:
  • A Muslim printer refusing a contract requiring the printing of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed
  • An atheist web designer refusing to design a website presenting as scientific fact the claim that God made the world in six days
  • A Christian film company refusing to produce a “female-gaze/feminist” erotic film
  • A Christian baker refusing to take an order to make a cake celebrating Satanism
  • A T-shirt company owned by lesbians declining to print T-shirts with a message describing gay marriage as an “abomination”
  • A printing company run by Roman Catholics declining an order to produce adverts calling for abortion on demand to be legalised.
At issue here is a conflict of perceived rights. The court is being asked to declare that the right to act in accordance with one's conscience, in a way that does no harm to another beyond denying approval of a belief system, is less important than the right of someone with a particular point of view not to have to confront the reality that some people disagree with him.

My fear is that it will do so.

So pray for the bakers, the court, and the litigants.

Fiat voluntas tua.

Thursday 19 March 2015


The latest guidance on SRE is going to have children talking about pornography and consent in school from the age of 11 up.

I will pass lightly over the topic of pornography, assuming that anyone who reads this blog will realise how evil it is, and how thoroughly misguided it is to encourage children to discuss it, particularly in mixed-sex classes.

I want to dwell on the issue of consent. Recently, a blog post was written and widely promoted and praised on social media, explaining consent by means of the metaphor of making someone a cup of tea (here).  It is very well done -and it is as fallacious as the lessons to which our children will soon be subjected.

The fundamental error is to assume that sexual intercourse is as trivial as having a cup of tea.  Clearly, that is a nonsense. Some of the immediate differences that spring to mind are:

  • the meaning of the act
  • the possible consequences of the act, both positive and negative
  • the implications of the act with regard to other people
  • the strength of the interest of one party in the other party's engaging in the act
  • (related to the last) the likelihood of deception in the asking for consent

and so on.

So perhaps a better analogy would be two organisations, or even nations, agreeing to work together on a matter of significance.

In that instance, typically the first thing to do is to establish a memorandum of understanding, or a framework agreement.  Because this is important, there may even be the requirement for some formality, and witnesses.  Then, within that context, specific actions by either or both parties may be agreed.

The point of that process is to minimise the likelihood of misunderstanding, cheating, exploitation, and so on, when the stakes are high and the desires of the various parties coincide in part but not necessarily in whole.

And of course, that is what civilised societies have developed with regard to sexual intercourse.  The memorandum of understanding, or framework agreement, is analogous to marriage. Each party agrees to the overall terms of engagement, with witnesses, so that the risk of being misled, or hurt, or having to deal with the consequences alone, are vastly reduced. Within that framework agreement, of course, consent with regard to individual acts is also necessary: but the chances of meaningful consent are far greater.

Indeed, over the centuries, and enlightened by the teaching of both Natural Law and religious wisdom, we had reached a stage where we knew what the framework agreement needed to cover: a life-long, exclusive commitment to be there for each other, no matter what, and to raise the children of the marriage together.

But the consent envisaged by the blog post I linked to, and the ideology it represents (typified by Brook and other self-appointed experts who dictate education policy in this country) is quite different. It is a spur of the moment consent, easily obtained by false promises, or simply honeyed words and lust, and yet it is taken as the one criterion of morality.

And that is what our kids will soon be being taught: if you fancy it, say yes, and everything will be wonderful. And if you don't say no.

As if that is going to work...

Sunday 15 March 2015

Saying Hurtful Things

I have been trying to place the best possible interpretation that I can imagine on the woeful lack of leadership and teaching about crucial moral issues (like, say, sin, and especially sins that are endemic and socially acceptable, such as contraception, adultery, fornication, homosexual practice) by our bishops, individually (with noble exceptions) and collectively.

I remembered the bishop I spoke to many years ago, who set me on the path to becoming Bitter and Twisted, as I recount here. Essentially, he didn't want to upset anyone.

And more recently, another member of the hierarchy has told me that they are extremely sensitive to the difficulties that people face, as an explanation for various concerns I raised (these sorts of things...)

So one possible interpretation is that the bishops just don't want to upset anyone. 

Whilst a laudable aim, there are some problems with that, if it is elevated above the central mission of the Church, to proclaim Christ's saving truth, in order that people repent and believe the Gospel, so that they may be saved by Christ's Redemptive Work, operating through the Sacraments, and thus attain eternal life.

Of course we should strive not to hurt others unnecessarily; but that is a secondary good, not the primary one.

Furthermore, when I read the Gospels, I see that Our Lord would frequently say ‘hurtful’ things. Imagine how the Syro-Phoenician woman felt, when told she was a dog who should not eat the childrens' food;  or how the Samaritan woman at the well felt, when Our Lord named her sordid 'lifestyle choices;' or how St Peter felt, when Our Lord said: vade post me, Satana! Or the pharisees, when they were called all sorts of offensive names; or Martha when she was trying to make everything perfect for Our Lord and was rebuked; and I could go on. 

For Him, truth and love are inseparable, and He confronts people with the truth, in order to call them to repentance, and thus to become open to His love. That seems to me where the Church is failing in this country, which is why our confessional queues are empty, and so, eventually, are our Masses.

Secondly, the unwillingness to hurt the feelings of any one group inevitably hurts the feelings of another. Thus the kindness extended to the divorced and remarried, if it goes so far as to imply they have a right to live with a new partner, becomes extremely cruel to the abandoned spouse, particularly when she or he has stayed faithful to the marriage vows in obedience to the Church. Or the welcome extended to homosexuals, if it condones or celebrates those who are openly living in same-sex relationships becomes extremely cruel to those who are tempted to same-sex relationships, but pursue chastity, in obedience to the Church.

Further, if one consistently compromises with the truth in order to avoid giving offence, there is the risk that one eventually loosens one’s grip on it. For how ‘hurtful’ it would be to say that someone in a loving relationship needs to repent.  The Church can’t really mean that… and so on. But if that loving relationship is in fact adulterous (and Our Lord was quite clear about this) then it is sinful: and sin will damage those who indulge in it, so it is no kindness at all to collude with it. And so, as I say, one loosens one’s grip on the truth.

So yes, we should avoid saying hurtful things where we can; but never at the cost of compromising the truth when that needs to be said. And if our role is a pastor or catechist, then we have a responsibility to proclaim the truth, in season and out, not to compromise it for 'pastoral' reasons - because we have the example of the Good Shepherd to follow.

Thursday 12 March 2015

Indexing the Muniment Room

I have long been a fan of Ttony's blog, The Muniment Room. He posts fascinating, well-researched pieces covering a range of topics relevant to believing Catholics.

However, his blog has no search function (update: see comments below), and he does not tag his posts either (the rotter!)

I had occasion today to look up his posts on the infamous National Pastoral Congress of 1980, which he identifies as the turning point in English Catholicism, from the traditional Faith to the new project.

These are uniformly excellent - and indeed essential reading for anyone interested in how we got to where we are; and by where we are, I mean a Church in England and Wales where the so-called pastoral approach has so diluted and confused the Faithful that moral and doctrinal chaos abounds.

So as a service to my delightful and discerning readership, here's the full list of those posts (though I don't guarantee its completeness). Go, read, and pray...

NB: This is part one of a one-off project: I am not indexing the whole of The Muniment Room (Ttony please note!)

Wednesday 11 March 2015

Making Gay Okay

I have just finished reading Making Gay Okay, by Robert R.Reilly, and published by Ignatius.  The subtitle is How Rationalizing Homosexual Behaviour is Changing Everything.

It is a compelling and very informative read. Part 1 is The Rationalization and How It Works. Reilly starts by describing the current culture war: the war that has as its goal that we should all approve of homosexual activity, and that is being waged with increasing vehemence as the gay agenda goes from strength to strength. Any dissent must be crushed. He then gives an overview of Natural Law as described by Aristotle, and describes how Rousseau turned that on its head. This philosophical tension, between the idea that we can know the truth of the meaning of human acts by inquiring into their nature, and in particular the end to which they are ordered (the telos), and the contrary idea that we can decide for ourselves what is good - this philosophical tension underlies the culture war.

Reilly's thesis is that the militant gay lobby needs to rationalize their behaviour, and to get everyone else to approve it, precisely because it is against the Natural Law, and at some level they know that.

He continues to advance his argument by looking at the nature of justice and how that applies in this case, and then he examines the Lessons from Biology about the telos of human sexual behaviour, and the harm that is done when sex is used contrary to that telos. This is heartbreaking stuff: one of the truths that gay activists acknowledge amongst themselves but decided the public should not know, is how harmful the gay lifestyle - as lived by many gay men - really is.

It should be noted that Reilly applies his Natural Law and Justice arguments equally to divorce and contraception, which he rightly sees as both wrong and as opening the door to the legitimisation of sodomy. Once you divorce sex from its innate meaning of procreation, you open the door to... well, anything, really.

He concludes this section with a chapter called Inventing Morality, which charts the series of legal cases in the US that gradually overturned the traditional moral prohibition on sodomy, and continued until same-sex marriages were declared to be equal to real marriages.

The second half of the book is called Marching Through the Institutions. This documents the relentless way in which the gay lobby, having won in the courts, proceeded to overturn the way we view homosexuality in psychiatry, and with regards to parenting; how they conquered the schools and the military, and are gradually overcoming the resistance of the Boy Scout movement, and have completely infiltrated US Foreign Policy.  This is all fascinating, if depressing reading. 

But perhaps the most important part is the first chapter in this section, which documents how militant activists got homosexuality removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association. That is important because it provided the leverage for so much else. The declaration that homosexual behaviour was not a disorder, was a huge weapon in their armoury: and it flew in the face of the facts. Even sympathetic liberal psychiatrists were shocked at what had been done and how: 'the first time in the history of healthcare that a diagnosis or lack of diagnosis was decided by popular vote rather than scientific evidence.'

I should, perhaps, have mentioned earlier that one of the many strengths of the book is the research that has gone into it. The quotations are voluminous and referenced, and taken from many publications on both sides of the debate.

This is an important book on an important topic.  For anyone who thinks that legalising Gay Marriage is unimportant, it should serve as a wake-up call. SSM is not a neutral concept, still less is it about any meaningful equality. Rather it is a direct assault on traditional morality and the family, and therefore on society itself. 

The saddest part of the book is the wealth of statistics and quotations - from gay sources in many cases - detailing the depravity of those in the grip of the gay lifestyle at its worst. That is the other reason we must oppose this: it is doing those with homosexual tendencies terrible harm - and the gay lobby clearly wants to recruit more and more people, at younger and younger ages (when they are most likely to be confused about their sexuality), to the 'lifestyle' and convince them (against the evidence) that it is immutable.

Sunday 8 March 2015

From A Priest Friend

I received this comment form a priest whom I know, in response to my post about the Prodigal Son.  I thought my readers would be interested to read it in its entirety.

--The Catholic Church has no authority to deviate from the teachings of Jesus Christ who stated that divorcing and remarrying is the moral equivalent of committing adultery.

Nor does the Church have the authority to permit adultery – which is forbidden in the Ten Commandments: breaking any one of these is a mortal sin.

This teaching has been interpreted infallibly as a matter of doctrine by the Council of Trent:

“If anyone says that the Church is in error for having taught and for still teaching that…the marriage bond cannot be dissolved…and that neither of the two, not even the innocent one who has given no cause for infidelity, can contract another marriage during the lifetime of the other…Anathema sit.”

Council of Trent 24th Session: Doctrine on the sacrament of Matrimony – November 11,1563 – Canon 7: (Denzinger 1807)  

Furthermore, the Council of Trent also taught as a matter of doctrine (and not mere discipline) that if you have committed a mortal sin, you must go to confession before you can receive Holy Communion again.

 “Those whose conscience is burdened with mortal sin, no matter how contrite they may think they are, first must necessarily make a sacramental confession…If anyone presumes to teach, or preach, or obstinately maintain, or defend in public disputation the opposite of this, he shall by the very fact be excommunicated.”

Council of Trent 13th Session on the Most Holy Eucharist October 11, 1551 -  Canon 11 (Denzinger 1661) 

Of course only those Cardinals who know how to read will be influenced by these parts of the Deposit of the Faith. 

Some members of the hierarchy seem unwilling to even mention the word sin.

They appear to think that the Prodigal Son's faults consisted of Unethical Farming and Global Warming (caused by the pigs' over production of methane).

Their friends in the Green Party would have arrested Our Lord after the unfortunate incident of the Gadarene Swine.

Saturday 7 March 2015


Today's Gospel is the parable of the Prodigal Son.

I am struck once again by how the Father runs to welcome the errant son while he is still a long way off.

This seems to me a wonderful illustration of the right kind of Gradualism.  The son has not yet made his way home, has not yet made his apology and confession of fault - but the Father runs to welcome him. What a loving Father!

But the son had started his journey: he was on his way, the right way. Gradually, he was coming home.

Had one of our more progressive bishops counselled him, he would never have done so, of course. He would have stayed in the pig-sty because it is unrealistic to expect him to change his life so dramatically, to expect him to reform his way of living.

When bishops tell adulterers that adultery is ok, that they can discern moral good in it, and when they say the same to those in other unchaste relationships, heterosexual or homosexual, they are, in effect, saying: Do not turn back to God. Do not even think of starting the journey home.

And in so doing, they are robbing them of the opportunity to meet the Father who would run to greet them from a long way off, full of joy that the son who was lost has been found.

This is grave indeed: we must pray for our bishops, and pray for the poor souls who are misled by their easy and mistaken 'pastoral' approach, which is anything but truly pastoral.

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. 

Friday 6 March 2015

Unsung Heroes (1)

This is the first (and quite possibly the last) in a series of posts on unsung heroes of the modern day.

Professor David Paton is a long-time SPUC supporter. As an academic, his public support of, and frequent appearances for, SPUC, as well as his recently giving evidence at the House of Commons to the Inquiry on PSHE and SRE, in his capacity as a Professor of Economics who has done research in that area, will earn him few professional friends. Academia is a difficult environment for those who risk going against the degenerate consensus on social issues.

I was reminded of him when I saw that he had had a letter published in The Times the other day. It is behind a paywall on their website, but I thought it of particular interest to readers of this blog:

Dear Editor,

The Oxfordshire Serious Case Review is the latest of a series of reports in which it is clear that the provision of contraception to minors by sexual health services has played a significant role in perpetuating child sexual abuse.

The Review calls for all under-16s to have a risk assessment for abuse before being provided with contraception.  Although this is a step forward, it does not go far enough.  The Fraser Guidelines stipulate that minors can be given contraception without parental knowledge as long as they are mature enough to give their true consent.  As the Review points out there is an inherent contradiction in deeming children as being able to “consent to contraception long before they are able legally to have sex”.  A 13 year old should never be considered mature enough to consent to sexual activity and it is time for the Government to make this clear to all health professionals.

Yours faithfully,

David Paton (Professor)

Nottingham University Business School

Succinct and to the point - and very brave.

Wednesday 4 March 2015

Oxford Abuse and Brook

No sooner was the Serious Case Review into the appalling abuse of young girls in Oxford published, than campaigners were calling for more, and compulsory, sex education in schools.

I contest that sex education of the type that is being promoted is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

I refer to the ethos of Brook, about whose infamous Traffic Lights I have blogged before, here and passim (to re-cap, underage sex is explicitly to be applauded; indeed  'consenting oral and/or penetrative sex with others of the same or opposite gender who are of similar age and developmental ability' is according to Brook normal behaviour for thirteen year olds and worthy of positive feedback). This 'anything (consensual) goes' ethos informs our school's approach to SRE, and thus effectively grooms girls for predatory males.

Brook of course, is a champion of providing contraception to under-age children, too (as is the Government. Readers may remember the brave campaign by Victoria Gillick which brought this to public attention and, for a brief while, put a stop to it. During that time, when contraceptives were not freely available to under-age children, teenage conceptions went down).

Brook's ethos also has an effect outside the schoolroom.  The Serious Case Review refers to this same ethos as being a major factor in the total failure of the various agencies to think that there was anything wrong when young girls were clearly having sexual relations with older men.

Here are some extracts:

1.3 The law around consent was not properly understood, and the Review finds confusion related to a national culture where children are sexualised at an ever younger age and deemed able to consent to, say, contraception long before they are able legally to have sex. A professional tolerance to knowing young teenagers were having sex with adults seems to have developed.

5.11 The lack of knowledge also, for example, affected the therapeutic care given to the girls as risks were not identified, clues not picked up, and the presenting issue was the focus. “Primary care [and a listed range of sexual health and pregnancy services] failed to recognise that these girls were at ‘high on-going risk’ and failed to protect them from pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and failed to work together to safeguard them.”

8.52 The result was that inappropriate or illegal sexual activity by children who were clients, patients or looked after children was subject to a higher tolerance threshold than would be the case than, say, the average parent. This may have been because professionals could not find a way to stop the girls going where they were at risk; it may have been from trying to avoid being too ‘controlling’ and risking more alienation, and from the wide sense that ‘nothing could be done’. However, for some, it may also relate to a reluctance to take a moral stance on right and wrong, and seeing being non-judgemental as the overriding principle. What is right and wrong about youthful sexuality is anyway a rather blurred issue. Paragraph 5.43 referred to health guidance which determines a child’s ability to consent to sexual health advice and get contraception for an act which the child might be legally unable to consent to. The law regards underage sex between peers over 13 as not something that should have any intervention, and it is not much more of a step to see sex between say a 14-year-old and a young adult as ‘one of those things’. And, in this Review, sex with older adults did not always lead to what might colloquially be called bringing in the cavalry to intervene come what may. The benign word ‘boyfriend’ disguised age-inappropriate relationships.

A key recommendation is to “Seek assurance from all member agencies that staff are aware of the guidance around consent to sexual activity, and relationships”.  And here's the crunch: the report reveals that a pro-forma developed by Brook is in place with some agencies: this refers directly to the notorious Brook Traffic Light Tool to which I referred above.

And the solution of the politicians: give Brook and their ideological allies more leverage with our children!

We live in very depraved and dangerous times.

Sub tuum praesidium confugimus, Sancta Dei Genetrix.
Nostras deprecationes ne despicias in necessitatibus nostris,
sed a periculis cunctis libera nos semper,
Virgo gloriosa et benedicta.

Monday 2 March 2015

L'esprit de l'escalier

Of course, the morning after posting on translation, I thought of what I really should have written (post scriptum omne animal triste est and all that). And that is that the last word on word for word translation belongs to Astérix, or more precisely, Jolitorax, his very idiomatic English cousin.

« Fin de semaine » (p2-c7) = Week-end
« Choquant! » (p2-c8) = Shocking!
« Plutôt. » (p3-c2) = Rather.
« Et toute cette sorte de choses. » (p3-c7) = And all that sort of thing = et caetera.
« Je dis. » (p4-c4) = I say., que les Bretons de l'album placent à tout bout de champ dans leurs phrases. Typique d'un Anglais de la haute société du début du xxe siècle. Cette tournure était utilisée pour souligner quelque chose.
« Un morceau de chance. » (p4-c5) = A bit of luck.
« Secouons-nous les mains. » (p4-c7) = Let's shake hands.
« Je demande votre pardon. » (p5-c3) = I beg your pardon.
« Je ne voudrais pas être un ennui pour vous. » (p6-c6) = I don't want to be any trouble for you.
« Un joyeux bon garçon. » (p24-c5) = A jolly good fellow.
« Nous devons. » (p24-c2) = We have to.
« Ma bonté! » (p25-c2) = My goodness!
« Gardez votre lèvre supérieure rigide. » (p25-c4) = Keep a stiff upper lip = « Gardez votre sang-froid. »
« Il est devenu absolument noix. » (p26-c4) = He is going nuts = « Il devient fou. », « Il perd les pédales. »
« J'étais en dehors de mes esprits avec l'inquiétude. » (p28-c2) = I was out of my mind with worry. = « J'étais inquiet. »
« C'était grand de vous avoir ici. » (p43-c7) = It was grand to have you.


Je reste mon cas (avec mercis au Wikipedia français).

Sunday 1 March 2015

Bugnini on translation

I have just read the section in Bugnini's book about translation. Whilst I have to approach most of the issues he deals with as an amateur and outsider, here is a topic I actually know a little about.

And that leads me to be even more critical of the story he tells.

Here are the guidelines the Consilium offered.
'In Liturgical communication three points must be considered: 
a) What is being said in the original text. Translators must identify the content of the message and give it a new form that is both accurate and agreeable. They must apply the scientific methods of textual and literary criticism that the experts have developed. (1) 
b) The addressee of the text. The language used must be accessible to majority of the faithful, including children and uneducated folk. It must not, however, be "common" in the bad sense but must be beyond blame from the literary standpoint. (2) 
c) The manner and form of expression are integral elements in oral communication. The literary genre of any text depends on the nature of the ritual action. It is one thing to utter an acclamation, another to offer a petition or proclaim or read or sing. 
(1) The instruction is here saying that translations should not always be word for word since this can obscure the overall sense of the message. In Latin, the accumulation of words reinforces the meaning as, for example, in the series "ratam, rationabilem, acceptabilemque" in the Roman Canon; in modern languages, on the other hand, such a use of three adjectives may have the opposite effect. In his observations the Pope warned against "arbitrary and subjective manipulations" of the original and gave a humorous example : the translation of 'mea culpa' by a modern man of letters who follows the principles set down: 'It was I; yes it was I; there is nothing more to say.' " 
(2) Note of the Holy Father: "The Italian translation of the Mass is not quite perfect when measured by this standard (dovunque instead of dappertuto, mai instead of non mai, and so on)."

There is so much that could be said about all this. Paragraph a) is very interesting. Why the suggestion of a 'new form?' What is meant by 'agreeable?'  The scientific methods of the experts was not an area of settled agreement in the 1960s (it still isn't: translation is more of an art than a science, see Bellos' delightful book Is that a fish in your ear? for a good discussion of this). But in the 1960s, the whole business of textual and literary criticism was politicised, and subject to all manner of 'progressive' theories, not least concepts from post-modernism such as deconstruction, championed by the likes of Derrida and Foucault.

So the Consilium's exhortation to 'apply the scientific methods' of the 'experts' opened wide a very unstable door...

Paragraph b) seems to me even more problematic. In the first place, the assumption seems to be that the addressee of the liturgy is the congregation. But the Catholic understanding has always been that the Liturgy is addressed to God the Father (cf CCC §1083).  My second concern is the stipulation that the language should be intelligible to children and uneducated folk. This could be taken two ways: it could mean that the language 'must be intelligible once explained to...' or it could mean that it 'must be intelligible on first hearing to...' 

The first of these would be a good principle; but the second is what was applied (at least in English and French, the languages I understand  in which I have attended Mass), and has led to the disastrous dumbing down of the liturgy. For if you take something as rich as the Liturgy and so redact it as to make it fully intelligible, on first hearing, to children and the uneducated, you inevitably do two other things. One is that you lose a lot of the meaning; the second is that you make it dull for the intelligent, and for children as they grow older, and for the uneducated on umpteenth hearing: it simply lacks the richness that would allow people to discover more and more in it over time. Those two principles, directing the liturgy at the people, and making it so simple that a child can understand it on first hearing, have been large contributors to the infantilisation of the liturgy (a fruit of which I have commented on here, in my one and only post to get official kudos from Fr Z.)

The exhortation that it must not 'be "common" in the bad sense but must be beyond blame from the literary standpoint,' would be more helpful if it led to some more specific guidance. As it stands, it invites such subjective judgement to be meaningless.

Paragraph c) seems to me to be a practically meaningless platitude. It offers no helpful criteria by which one could guide or evaluate one's work as a translator, merely an exhortation to bear in mind what any competent translator would always bear in mind.

But as so often with Bugnini, the footnotes are as interesting as the main text.

The first footnote contains three distinct elements. The first is a truth that has been known from the time of the ancient Greeks, who distinguished between metaphrase (a very literal, word-for-word translation) and paraphrase (the attempt to find words and phrases that convey the meaning accurately to a speaker of the language into which a text is being translated). It resurfaced in the 1960s (of course) as a new theory of 'dynamic equivalence' (courtesy of Eugene Nida). Nida seems to have varied in what he meant by 'dynamic equivalence.' Sometimes it was the same as the classical paraphrase, but sometimes he insisted it meant finding a translation that would have the same effect on the recipient in the new language as the original text would have had on someone who was a native speaker of the original language. Clearly,when one is operating across centuries as well as languages, that approach is somewhat conjectural. It is, however, the animating principle of many recent translations of the Bible.

The second element is the comment about the accumulation of words. Here Bugnini is guilty of so gross a generalisation that I shudder. The three words in the example he cites are not homonyms. Each has a different meaning and a different set of resonances: this is not just rhetorical repetition. So a good translator will strive to find a way to convey that richness: it is lazy to say 'Oh, Latin likes repetition to add emphasis. I'll omit the repetition and find a word to cover all three.'

Moreover, even if the words are identical, or nearly so, as in mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, it is not necessarily idle repetition. In the first place, any student of rhetoric knows the power of the three part list: and that is not unique to Latin (consider Shakespeare, who frequently uses the device [cry God for Harry, England and Saint George; tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow etc]  or the slogan of the French revolution, or the Nazi slogan Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer and so on.).

But it has further resonance in Catholicism. Any three part list (Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus) immediately recalls the Blessed Trinity. It may also recall the three days of Our Lord's death, and associated with that, the three days that Isaac was under sentence of death, that Jonah spent in the whale, that Our Lord was lost as a child, and so on. In the instance of the mea culpa, and likewise the triple Domine non sum dignus,  we think of Peter's triple denial of Our Lord, and Our Lord's triple command that he should feed His sheep in response.

To talk of these as an accumulation to add emphasis that only works in Latin is absurd. That false understanding has impoverished us.

The third element is the Holy Father's joke. But it seems to me that the joke was criticising the Consilium's principles, not endorsing them. And guess what? The Holy Father's criticisms, as so often, carried no weight with the experts.

The second footnote is another criticism by the Holy Father of the work done by the translators: Bugnini does not record any amendment as a result.

As well as these problems with the guidelines that were issued, there are more considerable problems with what was not said with regard to the criteria for translation.

Given that any translation of a long text is to some extent interpretive, weaving skilfully (if well done) between metaphrase (where possible) and paraphrase (where necessary), I should have thought it essential to provide some guidelines for that interpretive task. I would suggest complete fidelity to the meaning of the texts as understood by tradition, preceding Church teachings (eg how the texts have been quoted by Councils etc) and the writings of the Fathers of the Church; informed by an awareness of the contextual resonance of the text under consideration (eg the issues around three-fold repetition to which I referred earlier).

Th other important issue, I believe, is an understanding of liturgical language. The principle at b) above, as articulated, and particularly as applied in practice, misses an important linguistic feature of any serious  liturgical language (and not just in the Catholic liturgy): it is hieratic. That is to say, it is not the language of every day use, but rather a heightened language, reserved for formal public prayer to God. See my posts here for more on hieratic language, and here for more on translating the Bible and Missal.

Poor translation wasn't the only problem with the liturgical reforms, by any means, but it was certainly a major one, and one which I believe has contributed to generations of children (and indeed adults) abandoning the Mass as it seemed to have so little to offer them... Who needs to go to something that sounds like an infant school assembly on a Sunday morning, after all?