Thursday, 31 March 2011

Another outbreak of 'tolerance'

More evidence of western cultural and historical self-loathing - report from Wales Online:

"THE University of Wales could face an inquiry into an allegation it is breaching a new equality law by validating degrees at Christian fundamentalist colleges run by groups that believe homosexuality and sex outside marriage is sinful.
A number of senior academics in Wales intend to make a formal complaint about the university’s involvement with such colleges to the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
On Tuesday, Section 149 of the Equality Act 2010 comes into force. It introduces a public-sector equality duty which imposes on public authorities a legally enforceable obligation to “have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct that is prohibited by or under this Act”.
One of the “protected characteristics” defined in the Act is sexual orientation. Public bodies that fail to comply with the equality duty can face action in the civil courts.
A report written by a professor at a Welsh university, who wishes to remain anonymous for professional reasons, examines the University of Wales’ association with eight colleges that subscribe to a Christian fundamentalist viewpoint.
One of the colleges referred to in the report – the Danish Bible Institute – operates through the Copenhagen Lutheran School of Theology (LSTA in Danish). The report reproduces a screen shot of an LSTA web page which states: “In 2005 LSTA started its own Danish theological Bachelor programme, which takes four years and is validated by the University of Wales. The BA students get their teaching at LSTA, where, also, all assessments take place.
“All teaching is academic and seeks to equip the students to serve the Church in different ministries after graduation. In the BA programme an obligatory trainee period is put in. Add to this that the BA student is expected to engage him/herself into various ecclesiastical tasks, eg youth work, charity work, missions to vulnerable groups of society.”
The report goes on to quote from another section of the website that makes it clear the college – and another in Denmark, which also has degrees validated by the University of Wales – subscribe to the doctrines of the Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church, which believes homosexuality is a sin and is Creationist in its belief.
The report states: “Such alliances by the University of Wales are at clear odds with statements made by Professor Marc Clement, vice chancellor of the University of Wales, that ‘there’s no circumstance where we would tolerate discrimination on the grounds of sexuality’.”
Altogether, the report catalogues eight colleges in the UK, the US, Denmark, Finland and Singapore which have a similar perspective.
Professor Debbie Epstein, of Cardiff University, a leading expert on issues of sexual identity and one of the academics backing the formal complaint, said: “In my view, there are three reasons why it is wholly inappropriate for the University of Wales to be validating degrees offered by these colleges.
“First of all, there is the issue of having to accept the inherency [sic - inerrancy?] of the Bible as the word of God.
“For these people, there is no debate – and that is incompatible with the fundamental basis on which universities operate. Secondly, it is not acceptable for universities to operate a policy of only accepting staff or students who subscribe to certain belief systems.
“Thirdly, and particularly after the general duty to equality becomes a legal requirement next week, it would, in my view, be unlawful for a university to condone, through its degree validating procedures, colleges that do not uphold equality.”
She added: “You don’t expect to find this in universities.
“I believe the University of Wales should cease its connection with these colleges immediately.”
The author of the report has already approached the Equality and Human Rights Commission and intends to make a formal complaint next Tuesday, when the public sector equality duty takes effect.
The commission said it would begin an inquiry, should it receive a formal complaint."
Full report here

I don't know enough about the Evangelical Lutheran bodies mentioned to be able to comment upon them, perhaps they do not, in fact, meet the rigorous and critical academic approach to theology and scripture which seems to be demanded (I know this in itself begs quite a few questions for the Church), although one would imagine this would have been previously verified by the University of Wales.
However, the reasons stated in their complaint by the group of academics refer specifically to recent equality legislation, a very different issue and one which has significant implications for the exercise of religious and civil freedoms  - implications which have never been the subject of serious public (or academic) debate. It is clearly the beliefs of the religious bodies themselves which are the cause of disquiet for the group of university teachers, rather than anything  more directly concerned with questions of academic rigour.

It is more than a little ironic that this group of academics mentioned in the news report should call in aid the tradition of academic debate in the universities, itself a product of the vigorous medieval Catholic Christian high culture with which they would doubtless not wish to be associated. But perhaps the more serious and fundamental irony is exemplified by the comment made by  Professor Epstein herself, "For these people, there is no debate" - quite.
Why does the phrase trahison des clercs spring so readily to mind here? Perhaps that in itself has become a western tradition.
Every society in human history has sought to impose by legal sanction its own particular belief systems. Contemporary post-Christian western culture is no exception. The mistake would be to confuse this kind of coercion with "freedom," "tolerance" or "diversity." Relativism when it is enshrined as a guiding principle is proving to be curiously narrow, sanctimonious and prescriptive and, when combined with the extraordinary and unprecedented degree of conscious and unconscious repudiation of tradition and history which we are now experiencing, is a recipe for cultural suicide.
Our culture resembles now little more than one of those impressive Georgian buildings designed to be lived in and  whose facade remains intact, but whose interior has been gutted and replaced with fibreboard and plastic and now probably houses an advertising agency or something equally productive.
Freedom is something which has to be defended constantly, even the freedom of those with whom we viscerally disagree and whose beliefs we find offensive - something we in the West now seem to be in serious danger of forgetting.

On a lighter (and, of course, completely unrelated) note, there has been a bizarre story about a house in Swansea which is meant to resemble ...... Hitler.
Judge for yourself:

Perhaps not so much Hitler as ( for those who remember the television comedy "'Allo, 'Allo" ) Von Schmallhausen

Saturday, 19 March 2011

St Joseph

                                      Georges de La Tour (1593 – 1652)  
                      St. Joseph, the Carpenter

"In today's gospel pages, St Luke presents the Virgin Mary as "engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David" (Lk 1:27). However it is the evangelist Matthew who gives the greatest prominence to the putative father of Jesus, pointing out that, through him, the Child was legally inserted in David's line and thus he realized the Scriptures, in which the Messiah was prophesied as the "son of David".

"But Joseph's role certainly cannot be reduced to this aspect. He is the model of the "just" man (Mt 1:19), who in perfect sympathy with his spouse, welcomes the Son of God made man and guards over his human growth.......
"The beloved Pope John Paul II, who was very devoted to St Joseph, left us an awesome meditation dedicated to him in the Apostolic Exhortation Redemptoris Custos, "Guardian of the Redeemer". Among the many aspects it highlights, particular emphasis is placed on the silence of St Joseph. His is a silence permeated by contemplation of the mystery of God, in an attitude of total availability to his divine wishes. In other words, the silence of St Joseph was not the sign of an inner void, but on the contrary, of the fullness of faith he carried in his heart, and which guided each and every one of his thoughts and actions.

 A silence thanks to which Joseph, in unison with Mary, could be the guardian of the Word of God, known through the Sacred Scriptures, coming face to face with it continuously in the events of the life of Jesus; a silence interwoven with constant prayer, prayer of the blessing of the Lord, of adoration of his holy will and of unreserved trust in his providence. It is no exaggeration to say that it was from his 'father' Joseph that Jesus acquired – on the human level – that robust interiority which presupposes authentic justice, the "superior justice" which He would one day teach to his disciples (cfr Mt 5:20).  Let us allow ourselves to be "infected" by the silence of St Joseph! We have much need of it in a world which is often too noisy, which does not encourage reflection and listening to the voice of God."                                       

( Pope Benedict XVI  19th March 2010)

Friday, 18 March 2011

Is there really a problem of clergy homophobia and discrimination?

John Richardson reports this today:

Church in Wales recommends action against 'homophobic' clergy

UPDATE: the full report is here

The relevant paragraphs would appear to be 22, 29 and 35:

22. It is necessary to provide a policy with guidance to clerics on the dangers of emotional abuse arising out of the inappropriate use of pastoral supervision or theological teaching.

29. The cleric as role model, as seen by children and young people is significant. This needs to be fully recognised and appreciated by the Church in Wales. Inappropriate and unacceptable conduct such as discriminatory behaviour involving aggression, bullying or attitudes such as homophobia should not be tolerated and can in some instances be emotionally abusive. This should be a professional development issue and where necessary, subject to disciplinary procedures.

35. Reference has been made earlier to the need for policy and guidance in relation to certain approaches to ministry within the Church in Wales (see 21 and 22 above). It would be appropriate to initiate a debate on the subject which would include exploring the importance of ensuring responsible attitudes towards age appropriate emotional and spiritual growth. This would ensure that the Church in Wales exercises its duty to protect children and young people from spiritual and emotional abuse.
His full post is here

I'm not sure these kind of reports are something to be unduly alarmed about. Like most documents of this kind, it seems to be a combination of the unexceptional and the highly questionable. It is worrying only in so much as it displays in full measure the irresponsible trend within our communion to make sweeping and politicised declarations in areas where the authors seem to be have (one hopes) little awareness of the theological implications of what they are proposing.
It does also highlight the rather unpleasant habit of modern ecclesiastical management's 'professional development' structures (how ever did we get here?) to trust the clergy less and less, and to feel the need to justify their existence by these kind of attempts to 'micro-manage.'
I don't need to point out that this is also illustrative of Anglicanism's (long-standing but now resurgent) instinct to follow the zeitgeist first, and reflect theologically later, if at all.
If it is really felt that these kind of issues are a major problem for the Church (and not just a rather craven attempt to be seen to be on the right side of secular liberal opinion) the solution would seem to lie in the  selection and formation (remember that word?) of candidates for the priesthood. But the truth is that  this is a smokescreen.
Before we go any further, it would seem necessary (and, moreover, just) to define exactly what is meant by  "homophobia," or 'discriminatory behaviour.' To some, such an attitude would include the kind of aggressive, bullying and abusive behaviour we would all wholeheartedly deplore and agree should have no place in any Christian community; to others, it could include merely a robust (or even not so robust) defence of the Church's traditional moral theology or its historic theology of holy order.
"Homophobia" and "discrimination" are clearly offences which are in the eye of the beholder, and that is what makes them such dangerously subjective and nebulous concepts to include in any discussion of clergy discipline. Fear of giving offence is perhaps not the best disposition in which to approach the proclamation of the Gospel, and attempts to change the Church's stance on controversial issues are best undertaken honestly and directly and not by stealth.
It's hardly surprising that some of us are increasingly (made to feel) uncomfortable in our present ecclesial home.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Monsignori - a return to the purple

Damian Thompson has this & some  further comment:
"The three former Anglican bishops who were ordained Catholic priests in January have been given the rank of monsignor by Pope Benedict, the Catholic Herald reports. So, congratulations to Mgr Keith Newton, Mgr John Broadhurst and Mgr Andrew Burnham....." 

And here - from the Catholic Herald itself:
"Fr Keith Newton, the leader of the Ordinariate who has most of the functions of a bishop, and Fr John Broadhurst, the former Bishop of Fulham, have been granted the papal award of Apostolic Pronotary, the highest ecclesial title for non-bishops. Fr Andrew Burnham, the former Bishop of Ebbsfleet, has been granted the papal award of Prelate of Honour, and is therefore also a monsignor."

It's a lovely spring day here - at long last!
Posting may be rather sporadic - at the least very brief-  over the next few days as we are nursing a very sick St Bernard dog.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Alessandro Striggio - Missa "Ecco si Beato Giorno" à 40

The Kyrie from the long lost (or miscatalogued) mass by Striggio.

And a video about the work itself:

Now the important question. Would it be self-indulgent to buy this during Lent?
All right, after Easter.

Sanctus & Benedictus and the Agnus Dei (as it's a Lenten feria, I'll omit the Gloria!)

"A hand was lifted up against the Face of Christ."

Fr Z's Lenten podcast this morning [here] reminded us of that homily of the Venerable Bede which relates the parable of the fig tree to the fruit of holiness owed to God by his priests and ministers.

This is a meditation by Bl John Henry Newman, again something worth relflecting upon as Lent unfolds....
particularly perhaps those of us who dangle our toes in the sometimes uncharitable waters of the blosphere, and who sometimes contribute ourselves to its lack of charity.

"A hand was lifted up against the Face of Christ. Whose hand was that?
My conscience tells me: “thou art the man”. I trust it is not so with me now.
But, O my soul, contemplate the awful fact. Fancy Christ before thee, and fancy thyself lifting up thy hand and striking Him!
Thou wilt say, “It is impossible: I could not do so”. Yes, thou hast done so. When thou didst sin wilfully, then thou hast done so.
He is beyond pain now: still thou hast struck Him, and had it been in the days of His flesh, He would have felt pain.
Turn back in memory, and recollect the time, the day, the hour, when by wilful mortal sin, by scoffing at sacred things, or by profaneness, or by dark hatred of this thy Brother, or by acts of impurity, or by deliberate rejection of God’s voice, or in any other devilish way known to thee, thou hast struck the All-holy One.
...O my God, how can I look Thee in the face when I think of my ingratitude, so deeply seated, so habitual, so immovable — or rather so awfully increasing!
Thou loadest me day by day with Thy favours, and feedest me with Thyself, as Thou didst Judas, yet I not only do not profit thereby, but I do not even make any acknowledgment at the time.
... It is the same day after day. When wilt Thou give me a still greater grace than Thou hast given, the grace to profit by the graces which Thou givest?
When wilt Thou give me Thy effectual grace which alone can give life and vigour to this effete, miserable, dying soul of mine?
My God, I know not in what sense I can pain Thee in Thy glorified state; but I know that every fresh sin, every fresh ingratitude I now commit, was among the blows and stripes which once fell on Thee in Thy passion.
O let me have as little share in those Thy past sufferings as possible. Day by day goes, and I find I have been more and more, by the new sins of each day, the cause of them.
...Let others wound Thee — let not me. Let not me have to think that Thou wouldest have had this or that pang of soul or body the less, except for me.
O my God, I am so fast in prison that I cannot get out. O Mary, pray for me. O Philip, pray for me, though I do not deserve Thy pity."

Bl John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890): Meditations on Christian Doctrine, 3,2,1.

Monday, 14 March 2011

The Great Wave

Katsushika Hokusai's  (1760-1849) extraordinary picture depicting the powerlessness of humanity in the face of the forces of nature and history, takes on an almost unbearable poignancy in view of the unfolding events in Japan.
We continue to hold the Japanese people in our own prayers and commend them all to the prayers of Our Lady of Akita (here)

Almighty and everlasting God, the comfort of the sad, the strength of those who suffer, let the prayers of your children who cry out of any tribulation come to you. To every soul that is distressed, grant mercy, grant relief, grant refreshment, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
(Gelasian Sacramentary)
And see here  (Thanks to Fr John Abberton at Stella Maris for the link to this report )

Lenten reading

It's finally arrived! This will form the basis for my spiritual reading this Lent. Having read the first chapter, I cannot recommend it more highly. Some comments from Cardinal Marc Ouellet, describing the work as "Un livre historique, qui inaugure une nouvelle ère de l'exégèse théologique"  here

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Austin Farrer: 'Lent'

"Why have men always fasted? Originally, perhaps, to move the pity of heaven by a sort of hunger-strike: to show that their prayers were in earnest. But it is as necessary now as ever it was that we should show our prayers to be in earnest. God bestows himself on those who desire him. What then is the evidence that we desire him? Not words alone, feeling still less. Nothing but action can give seriousness to our desire for God. We are in earnest if for God's sake we displease ourselves. If we abstain from needless indulgence, much more, if we find the weak point in our service of God, and attack it with resolution. Resolutions are no good, unless we are prepared to find them broken, and to renew them, every day. It is no fast if it is easy. Displease yourself, and have fellowship with Christ. For he pleased not himself, and his prayers were heard. And for what did he pray? he prayed for, and obtained, our salvation."
from 'The Crown of the Year'

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Prayers for Japan

Our prayers are needed for the people of Japan.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has sent a message of condolence to the Anglican Archbishop of Japan, the Most Rev Nathaniel Makoto Uematsu:

“The news of the horrific earthquake in Japan has shocked us all. We await further and more detailed news with apprehension, but I want to say immediately that our hearts and our prayers go out to all who have been affected and that we as a church will do what we can to offer practical as well as spiritual support at this time of great suffering and great anxiety for so many.”

The Vatican says Pope Benedict XVI is praying for those who died in Japan's major earthquake and consequent tsunamis. He is "deeply saddened by the sudden and tragic" affects of the natural catastrophe, and is invoking "divine blessings of strength and consolation" on grieving friends and families.
Hundreds were dead or missing following Friday's 8.9 magnitude earthquake — the largest in Japan's history.
The pope also expressed solidarity with those providing rescue, relief and support. Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone relayed papal condolences in the message to the head of the Japanese bishop's conference, Leo Jun Ikenaga.

Damage from the magnitude 8.9 earthquake and ensuing tsunamis were preventing church officials in Japan from assessing needs as tsunami warnings were issued for 50 other countries and territories. Yasufumi Matsukuma, a staffer at the Japanese bishops' conference, told the Asian church news agency UCA News that most staffers would remain in the offices overnight because of suspended rail service and continuous aftershocks. "In Tokyo, telephone lines are so busy that I cannot contact diocesan chancellor offices in Japan. Aftershocks have followed. The tsunamis are terrible and we cannot get any information concerning the church yet," he said. [report from CNS here]

Friday, 11 March 2011

Some more music for Lent:

Good news from Wales

It has been announced that the successor to Dr Richard Fenwick as Dean of Monmouth [see a previous post] is to be Canon Jeremy Winston SSC, a former Chairman of the Additional Curates' Society and, at present, Vicar of St Mary's, Abergavenny. This blog offers Fr Jeremy its warmest congratulations and prayers on a richly deserved appointment and a long overdue recognition of his considerable abilities. It suggests there is not a complete absence of good will towards traditionalists in the Church in Wales, or at least it is further welcome evidence of the good will of the Bishop of Monmouth himself. Perhaps some will see it as akin to the prophet Jeremiah buying the field of Hanamel at Anathoth on the eve of the fall of Jerusalem, a sign of hope for the future.

This is Bishop Dominic Walker's very warm announcement: [more here]
"I am delighted to announce the appointment of Canon Jeremy Winston, the Vicar and Area Dean of Abergavenny, as the new Dean. He will be installed on Saturday, 10th September. As you know, I have consulted widely and taken soundings as to the qualities people feel are needful in someone who is to be the Dean at this time in the life of our Cathedral Church; it has been an interesting and informative exercise and Jeremy’s name has been warmly commended by many of you. I believe that he has the gifts and personal qualities that are needed to develop our Mother Church as a place of prayer, mission and welcome and to be a personal presence in the city of Newport. In addition, he has the musical and liturgical skills and also experience in successful fund-raising and building restoration.
The decision to invite Jeremy to be the Dean was taken after a time of prayer and discernment by both of us. As you will know Jeremy is a ‘traditionalist’ and holds that view with integrity and it is an honoured position within the life of the Church in Wales. Whilst I would not ask Jeremy to act contrary to his conscience, he gladly gave me the assurance that the Cathedral must be the Mother Church for the Diocese and women Canons will continue to be welcome to celebrate the Eucharist, and as Dean he will host the Chrism Eucharist and Ordinations. I trust that Jeremy’s appointment will indicate that as a Christian family we can demonstrate our unity in diversity."
This is probably a completely inappropriate occasion to say this but, without taking anything away from our warmest congratulations and our welcome for this very significant and good appointment (I'm sorry to have to be the ghost at the feast -perhaps that's now my vocation, in more ways than one) but, ecclesiologically, for all "catholics," appointments of this nature, however highly welcome they are, in fact change nothing, but only serve to illustrate the nature of the cultural and theological adjustments we will all have to make - and, of course,  have been making for some considerable time - in order to survive even temporarily in the contemporary Anglican climate.
Some may, with complete integrity, be able to see a future as a chance to demonstrate Anglican 'unity in diversity,' although  surely now it has to be clear to everyone that that 'diversity' is itself  time-limited, and also defined, constrained and regulated by the revisionist hegemony.  Others - equally indebted to their Anglican heritage - may over time find the necessary adjustments an impossible price to pay.
We should not be misled into thinking that this very good news is evidence of the possiblity of a long-term future for catholic traditionalists within the Anglican Communion, or that it is anything other than a brief gleam of light from a wintry sky. Many of us more than suspect that the future for the children of the Oxford Movement now lies elsewhere.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Shrove Tuesday

The ingredients for some luxury pancakes at last year's Shrove Tuesday parish event - the real lemons are out of camera shot - honestly!

It's Shrove Tuesday - 'Pancake Day' as it's become known in our ever more dumbed-down culture - personally, I think the rot set in when the telephone directory became the 'phone book' and it's now reached the stage where we are being told people can't understand the meaning of 'drowsiness,' [here] a triumph for the British education system - or should I simplify that and just say 'schools?'
Yet it's still a day when even the diet-conscious  make pancakes, and we should be grateful for the teaching opportunity this survival gives us but, sadly, even those in the 'catholic' tradition (there are a few of us left within Anglicanism - for a couple more Lenten seasons anyway) don't rush to join the queue to be 'shriven.'
Still, it's not all doom and gloom and inevitable decline; as we know, there are some very welcome signs of renewal around, and evidence of a growing desire to see a 're-enchantment' of Christian life and culture.

And after the pancakes, tomorrow we begin the penance of Lent with ashes, either sprinkled on our heads (I understand that was the custom when the Latin rite clergy were tonsured) or, inscribed as a cross on our foreheads.
There's a superb article [here] by Fr George Rutler - "Why we need Lent."  (Thanks to the NLM)
Required reading for all of us as the Church's springtime begins.

The day is come, the accepted day,
When grace, like nature, flowers anew;
Trained by thy hand the surer way
Rejoice we in our spring-time too.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Congratulations to Fr Edwin!

Many congratulations indeed to Fr Edwin Barnes, former Bishop of Richborough, former Principal of St Stephen's House, Oxford, who was ordained priest yesterday to serve in the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. As an ordinand, I spent a week in his parish at Hessle, near Hull, on a pastoral placement - when the world  & the Church of England seemed a very different place, and our prayers and our vision for the future (unrealistic perhaps, but we were young and full of idealism and, as it turned out, blind to the difficulties...) were filled with hopes of a reunion with Rome of a somewhat different form...
Oh well, in the familiar, and patrimonial, verses of William Cowper, words which seem ever more apt to our own circumstances:

"God moves in a mysterious way

His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs,
And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan his work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain."

Reports Here and here in Fr Edwin's own words
And news of several clergy resignations up and down the country in preparation for Ash Wednesday, here at the Ordinariate Portal and, significantly, from Fr Hunwicke [here]

Archbishop speaks out

The Archbishop of Canterbury writes in the Times about the recent murder of Pakistani minister, Shahbaz Bhatti. Good: perhaps this may help open people's eyes in the West to what has been happening for a considerable time to Christian minorities throughout the Islamic world and not just in Pakistan. He has some warm words for "the best historical examples of Muslim governance;" there is no harm in giving encouragement to moderate forces in the Muslim world, yet it has to be remembered that Pakistan has spent the majority of its time as an independent nation under military rule. The jury is still out as to whether there can be a democratic, secular, Muslim-majority state in today's world, given the rise of Islamism since the Iranian revolution. Turkey since the 1920s (when not itself ruled by the military) is probably the best example to hand, and its past human rights record and respect for religious minorities is highly suspect, to say the very least, even if now things do seem to be improving.

Report from ACNS: I'll reprint it in full to save you the fee to get past The Times paywall.

"Dr Rowan Williams: "It is heartbreaking to see Pakistan’s founding principles betrayed by its blasphemy laws"

Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams writing in The Times newspaper

In the history of some countries there comes a period when political and factional murder becomes almost routine — Russia at the beginning of the 20th century, Germany and its neighbours in the early 1930s. It has invariably been the precursor of a breakdown of legal and political order and of long-term suffering for a whole population. And last week, with the killing of Shahbaz Bhatti, the Minister for Minorities, Pakistan has taken a further step down this catastrophic road.
To those who actually support such atrocities, there is little to say. They inhabit a world of fantasy, shot through with paranoid anxiety. As the shocked responses from so many Muslims in this country and elsewhere make plain, their actions are as undermining of Koranic ethics as they are of rational politics.
But to those who recognise something truly dreadful going on in their midst — to the majority in Pakistan who have elected a government that, whatever its dramatic shortcomings, is pledged to resist extremism — we have surely to say, “Do not imagine that this can be ‘managed’ or tolerated”.
The government of Pakistan and the great majority of its population are, in effect, being blackmailed. The widespread and deep desire for Pakistan to be what it was meant to be, for justice to be guaranteed for all, and for some of the most easily abused laws on the statute book to be reviewed is being paralysed by the threat of murder. The case of Asia Bibi, so prominent in the debates of recent months, and the connected murder of the Governor of the Punjab, make it crystal clear that there is a faction in Pakistan wholly uninterested in justice and due process of law, concerned only with promoting an inhuman pseudo-religious tyranny.
Pakistan was created by Jinnah as a consciously Muslim state in which nonetheless the non-Muslim enjoyed an absolute right of citizenship and the civic securities and liberties that go with it. In common with the best historical examples of Muslim governance, there was a realistic and generous recognition that plural and diverse convictions would not go away and that therefore a just Muslim state, no more and no less than a just Christian or secular state, had to provide for the rights of its minorities.
If the state’s willingness to guarantee absolute security for minorities of every kind is a test of political maturity and durability, whatever the confessional background, Pakistan’s founding vision was a mature one. The disdain shown for that vision by Bhatti’s killers is an offence against Islam as much as against Christianity in Pakistan.
What needs to change? There needs to be a rational debate in Pakistan, and more widely, about the blasphemy laws that are at the root of so much of this. And this is likely to happen only if the international Islamic intelligentsia can form a coherent judgment on the level of abuse that characterises the practice of the blasphemy laws in Pakistan. Most Muslim thinkers are embarrassed by supposedly “Islamic” laws in various contexts that conceal murderous oppression and bullying. Their voices are widely noted; they need to be heard more clearly in Pakistan, where part of the problem is the weakening of properly traditional Islam by the populist illiteracies of modern extremism.
And there needs to be some credible proof of the Government of Pakistan’s political will not only to resist blackmail, but also to assess realistically the levels of risk under which minority communities and the individuals who support them live.
Shahbaz Bhatti knew what his chances of survival were — as the moving recorded testimony he left makes plain. He was not protected by the Government he so bravely served. How many minority Christian communities, law-abiding, peaceful and frequently profoundly disadvantaged, are similarly not protected by their government? What increased guarantees of security are being offered?
The protection of minorities of any and every kind is one acid test of moral legitimacy for a government; and such protection is built into Pakistan’s modern identity as an Islamic state with civic recognition for non-Muslims. Many are anxious about Pakistan’s future for strategic reasons. But those of us who love Pakistan and its people are anxious for its soul as well as its political stability. It is heartbreaking to see those we count as friends living with the threat of being coerced and menaced into silence and, ultimately, into a betrayal of themselves. This must not be allowed to happen. They need to know of the support of Christians and others outside Pakistan for their historic and distinctive vision.
Shahbaz Bhatti died, for all practical purposes, as a martyr — let me be clear — not simply for his Christian faith, but for a vision shared between Pakistani Christians and Muslims. When he and I talked at Lambeth Palace last year, he was fully aware of the risks he ran. He did not allow himself to be diverted for a moment from his commitment to justice for all.
That a person of such courage and steadfastness of purpose was nourished in the political culture of Pakistan is itself a witness to the capacity of that culture to keep its vision alive and compelling. And that is one of the few real marks of hope in a situation of deepening tragedy that urgently needs both prayer and action. "

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Time to eat some words, perhaps....?

There have been some intriguing excerpts on the web and in the press from Pope Benedict's forthcoming book, the second volume of 'Jesus of Nazareth,' to be published in the U.K. on Thursday.
There has also been considerable publicity over his comments concerning the (in)famous passage in St Matthew’s Gospel (27.25) in which “the Jews” demand the execution of Christ, exclaiming to Pilate: “His blood be on us and on our children.” The Holy Father explains that the crowd baying for the blood of Jesus does not represent the Jewish people, but sinful humanity in general. 'Furthermore, he offers theological insights to say that the blood of Jesus is not used in the purposes of vengeance but is poured out to reconcile mankind to God. It was not “poured out against anyone, it is poured out for many, for all”....'  From the Catholic Herald - see  [here]
Perhaps now would be a good time for those (particularly in the British media, but not only in that quarter) who have consistently misrepresented the Holy Father as a reactionary, obscurantist figure to admit they have been profoundly mistaken in their assessment of this gentle, scholarly but determined man. He is not only 'the Pope of Christian Unity' but the Pope of Reconciliation. I pray for the day when he may be not only 'the' Pope, but 'our' Pope, too.
This is part of a report from the Jewish Chronicle:

Israel has “welcomed wholeheratedly” the Pope’s announcement exonerating Jews for the death of Jesus. A spokesman for Israel’s embassy to the Vatican said it was “confirmation of Pope Benedict XVI’s known positive stance towards the Jewish people and the state of Israel.”
He said: “We hope that his positive view will inspire the more of one billion Catholics all over the world".

The new book has been described by one reviewer as "A whole Lenten retreat in one volume." I look forward to reading it all very soon.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Thursday, 3 March 2011

"...there's no place for a classical Anglo-Catholic in the Anglican Communion anymore."

PERTH, Australia (CNS) -- Traditionalist Anglicans who remain in the Anglican Church rather than taking up Pope Benedict XVI's offer of an Anglican ordinariate are wasting their time and spiritual energy clinging to a dangerous illusion, said the Vatican's delegate for the Australian ordinariate.
Melbourne Auxiliary Bishop Peter Elliott, a former Anglican, urged Anglicans at a Feb. 26 festival in Perth to take up the pope's offer of "peace."
"I would caution people who still claim to be Anglo-Catholics and yet are holding back," he told The Record, Catholic newspaper of the Archdiocese of Perth, Feb. 26. "I'd say 'When are you going to face realities?' because there's no place for a classical Anglo-Catholic in the Anglican Communion anymore."

It's very hard to fault his logic. Yet no one should despair. It was always going to be the case (and for various reasons, all well-rehearsed on this blog and elsewhere) that not everyone who is sympathetic to the establishment of the Ordinariate was ever going to be able to join it in the "first wave."
As for those who seem at the moment to have rejected the Holy Father's offer, the passing of time will be both on the side of the Ordinariate and on that of the revisionist majority within western Anglicanism. It will soon dawn on those remaining "classical Anglo-Catholics" who are now reluctant to leave, that there can be no 'safe haven' for them within Anglican structures.
There is a very good reason for this. Anglican Catholics know - or at least they should by now - that they simply cannot rely on the empty promises made by those who are our synodical and episcopal opponents many of whom, as we have seen fairly close to home, equate our beliefs with those of racists, homophobes and anti-semites. [See here] Not that all our opponents are without generosity or sympathy to the Anglo-Catholic predicament but, as we are also aware, expressions of sympathy and promises of support without the concomitant ability to deliver on those promises can result in more uncertainty, anxiety and despair than that caused by outright opposition. For Anglo-Catholics in England and Wales, the last few years have been a triumph of unrealistic hope over bitter experience.
I would be genuinely interested in hearing from anyone who believes that there is now a long-term and orthodox future for Anglo-Catholics within the Anglican Communion - a future which includes both the essential witness to the unity of Catholic Christianity and progress towards the goal of full and visible unity.

Because on a practical level (on any coherent theological, ecclesiological, level, it's clearly all over) it seems to me that even if, in England, the 'SSWSH ' bishops achieve their goal of recognition as a "society" within a C of E rapidly moving towards the ordination of women to the episcopate (and at present, gaining that recognition seems most unlikely, unless some spectacular rabbits can be pulled from archiepiscopal hats)  no one should be under any illusion that the war of attrition, "the long defeat" we have been fighting, will be over and done with. All the levers of power and influence (it's unfortunate to have speak in these terms, but nonetheless in a divided and politicised Church...) and of sacramental and pastoral oversight, including the authority to recommend ordinands for training, the kind of training or formation any candidates would receive, and the authority to nominate clergy to parishes, will all be (as they are now for all intents and purposes) in the hands of those whose beliefs are, at root, inimical to orthodox Catholic faith and practice. [More than that, the polity of modern Anglicanism itself, provincial autonomy coupled with 'synodical government and episcopal leadership,' has proved fatal, in today's western cultural setting, to the very survival of orthodoxy.] The question of who is in communion with whom will be unanswered (because it is essentially an unsolvable problem, in terms of a catholic ecclesiology, for those who remain.)  Any truce will be temporary, then there will be only more of the same - a continuation of the unequal battle - but this time with less support, fewer resources and very little or no public understanding or sympathy.

Fortunately for all of us, the door of the Ordinariate will remain wide open. Unlike Anglicanism in its modern guise, Catholicism is proving itself to be a broad Church and is 'inclusive' in the true sense of possessing unity of faith whilst allowing a legitimate diversity in its expression. What more do we want?

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

More evidence of violent persecution

We are living in an age of martyrs.

See here for the story behind the murder of the Pakistan government’s minorities minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic, and one of the few remaining public figures in that country (most of the others have also been murdered) openly to campaign for reform of its (Islamic) blasphemy laws. He was shot dead in broad daylight in a residential area of Islamabad.

The Vatican has condemned the murder of Mr Bhatti as an "unspeakable" act of violence.
The attack was a "new act of violence of a terrible gravity," said papal spokesman Federico Lombardi,
"To our prayers for the victim, our condemnation of the act of unspeakable violence, our closeness to the Pakistani Christians subject to hate, we add an appeal concerning the dramatic urgency of the defense of religious freedom and of Christians who are suffering from violence and persecution," he added.
The Archbishops of Canterbury and York also condemned the assassination saying, ".....This further instance of sectarian bigotry and violence will increase anxiety worldwide about the security of Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan, and we urge that the government of Pakistan will do all in its power to bring to justice those guilty of such crimes and to give adequate protection to minorities...."

And see here for the recent report of Egyptian military personnel firing on a Coptic monastery.
The Mubarak government, essentially a military regime, although outwardly secular, was no friend to the Copts or to any faith other than Islam; we must pray that the new administration when (if?)  it is allowed to emerge will be more tolerant than its predecessor. Perhaps the sale of arms to such countries and even aid programmes should be tied far more closely than they have been to a proven track record of respect for human rights.

"Then to hell with it.”

Overheard the other day on the car radio on a (rather predictable) radio discussion programme, a description of the Judeo-Christian tradition - " a religion created by men." As Bishop (later Monsignor) Graham Leonard  repeatedly asserted, this is the fundamental division among Christians today: between those who accept the revealed nature of the Christian Gospel and those who see religion first and foremost as a human activity. Is it a human search for the divine or the result of God's search for us, with all the authority that conveys?
I have to say I'm really not interested in a religion "created" by anyone - only in the quest for the one revealed to us by God. In fact, I'm tempted to quote the American novelist Flannery O'Connor and say (as she did on the subject of the so-called "symbolic" character of the Eucharist)  if it's a human construct, "then to hell with it.” *

* This is Flannery O'Connor in her own words:

"Well, toward morning the conversation turned on the Eucharist, which I, being the Catholic, was obviously supposed to defend. [Mary McCarthy] said when she was a child and received the Host, she thought of it as the Holy Ghost, He being the 'most portable' person of the Trinity; now she thought of it as a symbol and implied that it was a pretty good one. I then said, in a very shaky voice, 'Well, if it's a symbol, to hell with it.' That was all the defense I was capable of but I realize now that this is all I will ever be able to say about it, outside of a story, except that it is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable."

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Another questionable legal judgement

John Richardson, The Ugley Vicar, asks this very pertinent question about the judgement in a recent case in the High Court:

"Should Christians be allowed to keep children?

Apparently, according to the High Court, Christians who are not willing to commend homosexual acts ought not to be given other people's children to foster.
If this is what was said, and if it is a valid judgement, is it therefore right that Christians should nevertheless be allowed to keep their own natural children, if they similarly will not commend homosexual acts to them?"
The vital issue is rapidly becoming not the demand for homosexual equality before the law- as far as I am aware very few people oppose that at least in in general terms - but the refusal of a secular culture with its own recently invented set of ethics to tolerate any deviation whatsoever from what it regards as its core values, however much at odds they may be with our history and traditions. Unfortunately, once the concept of "equality" enters any discussion, freedom, whether of thought or expression, goes out of the window.
The urgent issue for our legislators and those who interpret legislation is how our society can achieve a balance between the rights of sexual minorities to receive 'equal' treatment (whatever that means - a can of worms in itself) and the legitimate rights of religious believers not only to hold on to the tenets of their faith but to practice them. It should also be borne in mind that when we are discussing the use of public money (as with the Catholic adoption agencies) the State in fact has no money of its own, only what it has obtained from the taxpayers - individuals each with their own beliefs and opinions, none of whom were ever consulted (other than in the most general terms in the fine print of party manifestos) about  the desirability of equality legislation and, most importantly of all, of the possible implications for individual freedom in its enforcement.
The difficulty facing the Church is that modern relativism is clearly an intellectual one-way-street as it cannot even contemplate the possibility that it may be mistaken. Now who is it who has spoken about the "dictatorship of relativism?"

On a closely related matter, there are interesting discussions on the Anglican (evangelical - reformed) blogs Cramner and Cranmer's Curate about the Church of England's attitude to the use of Church buildings for civil partnership ceremonies or what they will perhaps morph into. Whatever our attitude to the substantive question here, surely the 'junior' cleric is correct when he asks,  "...can an institution that allows its clergy to enter into civil partnerships be relied upon to hold the line?"
Time will tell.

St David's Day

Today's New Testament reading at mass:

Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ  and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith;  that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,  that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.
Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3 .8-14
God our Father,
you gave the bishop David to the Welsh Church
to uphold the faith
and to be an example of Christian perfection.
In this changing world
may he help us to hold fast to the values
which bring eternal life.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

The Roman Missal