World Meeting of Families in Dublin: a joy for the whole world and a joy worth sharing

[Maria Byrne]

There has been a lot of excitement in Ireland in anticipation of the long awaited visit of Pope Francis. Those of us who are old enough still have fond memories of the last time a pope visited Irish shores. In 1979, almost everyone I knew travelled to the Phoenix Park in Dublin where Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass for over a million people. The iconic message delivered to throngs of young people at a youth Mass in Galway, “Young people of Ireland, I love you” which was followed by rapturous applause has gone down in history as the most memorable moment of the whole visit. That one expression of a heartfelt love and the enthusiasm of the response from thousands of teenagers and young adults captured the imagination of the nation and was reported on with glowing positivity.

Fast forward almost 40 years as we are about to welcome Pope Francis and we are in a very different Ireland. In the lead up to the visit, the reporting and media coverage has been generally negative. There were stories about the need to be up to date with one’s vaccinations; that large crowds could be a health risk; with mention of pop up morgues and risks for the elderly or infirm. The old arguments also resurfaced centring on the Catholic Church’s teaching on sexuality, its place in education, women’s role in the Church, the sexual abuse of children and accusations of the Church excluding gay people.

This approach to the visit of Pope Francis may give the impression of a Church that is on its last legs; not quite dead, but rapidly heading in that direction. After three days attending the World Meeting of Families 2018 Pastoral Congress in the RDS in Dublin, I saw a very different Church, one that has a valuable message for our times, a message that is as relevant today as it was over two thousand years ago.

The theme song for the World Meeting of Families 2018 is “The Joy of Love”, the joy of the family of Christ which, even when broken, bowed or wounded, has a hope that shines brightly in the darkness. There was a visible sense of that joy among the people who came from Ireland, the UK and all over the world to pray, to listen, to learn, to interact and to celebrate. Over the course of the week of the congress, there was an ambitious programme with an impressive lineup of speakers, daily Mass, music and adoration and so many stands and displays in the main hall that it would have been impossible to visit them all. Like the other pilgrims, I spent three days racing around, being both inspired and humbled, challenged and enriched.

There were numerous different subjects touched on but all centred on the unique dignity and value of every human being and the importance of the family as a school of learning Christian values. On the first day, I opted to attend Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle’s presentation – Choose Life: Pope Francis on the “throw-away” Culture. In his appealingly good-humoured way, Cardinal Tagle traced the history of planned obsolescence and the production of products with an artificially limited useful life and linked this to a culture of viewing people as expendable. Drawing on Laudato Si, the care for our common home and Amoris Laetitia, he talked about how, in our present world, people can be viewed in a “transactional fashion” and treated as commodities.

After the recent referendum on abortion in Ireland, Cardinal Tagle’s reference to the words of Pope Francis on the throwaway culture rang very true. The unborn child, the elderly, the sick and those with disabilities, prisoners, migrants and those who have been victims of human trafficking are often discarded, cast aside as being of lesser value.

Archbishop Eamon Martin in his homily, during a celebration of Mass in the family arena, also spoke of the key place in society of the family quoting St Pope John Paul II, “As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.” He pointed out that the welfare of the family is crucial to the welfare of the world and how supporting families in all their complexity should be a prime consideration of those concerned with promoting the common good of society. We should approach our politicians and ask them to what extent their policies support families and life.

The week of the congress was a time of great grace. The various speakers on topics affecting families included Dr Mary Aiken on turning technology to the greater good; talks on marriage, marriage preparation and sexuality in marriage; a harrowing account of human trafficking from “Maya”, a survivor of slavery and abuse and topics that explored every possible family situation and every challenge that families might face.

There was a packed hall for Bishop Robert Barron who described the family as “the place par excellence for the growth in virtue” and how growing in virtue makes us truly free. Seeing the large crowds queuing to get into the hall for his talk, I pondered on how the recent portrayals of the Catholic faith as a relic of the past is way off the mark. I think Bishop Barron’s upbeat and insightful words would have attracted the greatest cynic to what the faith of Christ offers us and our families. He spoke in a language that parents could understand about training our children, the self-giving that is central to true love and the challenges of trying to raise a child in the faith.

I was really uplifted and energised at seeing how many initiatives and projects have been started, many directly responding to the social justice doctrine of the Church reaching out to the poor, the homeless and the vulnerable.

Those who had been dragged down by unrelenting negativity left with bags full of books and information, medals and pencils and hope in their hearts, refuelled spiritually and really to take on the task of evangelising our lovely country.

Ireland is often called Ireland of the thousand welcomes. The Irish are known for their great welcome; as we welcome Pope Francis to Ireland, we must also work hard to ensure that there is also a welcome for our ancient values, ones that are forever new and that have a place in the public square. Seeing the mothers, fathers, teenagers and small children singing joyfully together during the final Mass of the week, I felt sure that what we have, the joy we have as Catholics, is a joy for the whole world and a joy worth sharing.

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Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse: Interim report released on Downside and Ampleforth Schools

[Joe Ronan]

A report of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) was released on 9thAugust. This document, one of a number already released, with others planned, reported specifically on the sexual abuse that took place in Ampleforth and Downside Schools over the last 50 years, and on the response to that abuse by the schools’ authorities. It makes grim reading.

IICSA was set up in 2015 to look at the response of public bodies and important institutions to child sexual abuse in their organisations.  This was in the wake of the revelations about Jimmy Savile and of abuse in various public bodies including the NHS, the BBC, and the prison service.

IICSA is looking into the response to child sex abuse in institutions including custodial institutions for children, children’s homes, Nottinghamshire Councils, Rochdale Borough Council, as well as the Catholic and Anglican churches. Its remit is to “consider the growing evidence of institutional failures to protect children from child sexual abuse, and to make recommendations to ensure the best possible protection for children in future.”

In this case study on Downside and Ampleforth the report says there was “blatant openness”in describing how abusive behaviour took place in group settings, but contrasts that with the secretive and evasive approach to child protection. “For decades, they tried to avoid giving information, other than what was specifically requested,  to the statutory authorities, that might have assisted the investigation of the abuse of children in their care.”

Conclusion 5 states “On the few occasions where parents raised complaints about sexual abuse, or were informed about it by either institution, some preferred not to have the matters treated as a crime requiring police investigation, but to keep it quiet at all costs. Their interest was to protect the school, the Benedictine Congregation and the Catholic Church. In some instances, parents also wished to protect their children from the process of police investigation.”

The report contains harrowing descriptions of the abuse suffered by children at the school, and of the completely inadequate and evasive response both by individuals and the institution as a whole.

The IICSA report also criticises the way that “Even after the Nolan Report, when monks were obliged to work with the statutory authorities and gave the appearance of cooperation and trust, their approach could be summarised as a ‘tell them nothing’ attitude.”

The English Benedictine Congregation (both schools are owned and managed by Benedictine monks) has recognised the failings shown by this report. The current Abbott President of the EBC said “Once again I apologise unequivocally to all those who were abused by any person connected with our abbeys and schools. The report highlights how flawed many of our past responses have been. We continue to work conscientiously to ensure our communities are safe environments for young people both now and in the future.

Damning as the conclusions are, the frightening truth is that the facts that come out of this report are by no means unique in today’s society or confined to the Catholic Church.

IICSA has reported similarly on abuse in Rochdale children’s homes and has on-going investigations into Lambeth Council, Children in custodial institutions, Residential schools, the Anglican Church and Westminster.  Even this wide purview is a cut-down version of the original intention to include the BBC and the NHS in the investigations.

The Catholic Church around the world has in the past failed in many ways to protect children in its care, but starting with the Nolan report in 2001, it has begun to create the environment in which safeguarding and protection of children is a primary concern.

In 2001 Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor asked Lord Nolan to study the situation regarding safeguarding and child protection within the Catholic Church and to make recommendations for the future.  His eventual report resulted in a sea-change in the way that Catholic Dioceses and institutions responded to child protection. Five years later the Church commissioned the Cumberlege Commission to review the way the Nolan recommendations had been put into place.  That report (‘Safeguarding with Confidence”) showed that the Church was then a safer place, had implemented 79 out of the 83 recommendations either completely or partially, and made further recommendations to improve things further.  This process of improvement continues to this day with the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission producing an annual report monitoring the effectiveness of responses to abuse, and publishing statistics on new allegations.

The IICSA report acknowledges that good data on the extent of child sexual abuse in institutions is very scarce.  In November 2017 the Inquiry published a review of existing research on child sexual abuse within the Anglican and Catholic Churches. This highlighted that the best published quantitative information on abuse within the church was commissioned by the US Catholic Church in a report known as the ‘John Jay Report’. This report has been followed up subsequently by further study, forming perhaps the most comprehensive analysis of abuse in any institution.

The analysis by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice shows clearly the extent of abuse within church structures, but also puts that in the context of the level of abuse throughout society.  It shows that children are significantly less at risk in Catholic dioceses than in US society as a whole.  It also indicates that the level of clerical abuse in the USA rose from a low level in the 1950’s, peaked in the 1970’s and has dropped back to a low level in recent years.

The Catholic Church having acknowledged its failings, has in commissioning such studies as the Nolan Report and the John Jay Report shown that it is very serious about understanding the problem and scale of institutional abuse, and establishing suitable systems to address it.  The summary of the follow up report to the John Jay Report “The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010 contains a call to other institutions to follow suit:

“No other institution has undertaken a public study of sexual abuse and, as a result, there are no comparable data to those collected and reported by the Catholic Church. Other organizations should follow suit and examine the extent of sexual abuse within their groups to better understand the extent of the problem and the situations in which sexual abuse takes place.”

Individual Church Institutions such as Downside and Ampleforth need urgently to review their responses and ensure that such abuse as has been described can never happen again.  But only if all institutions, secular and religious, take to heart the fact that sexual abuse of children is widespread, in families and public bodies, religious organisations and secular ones, will we be on the path to eliminating it in our society.

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Humanae Vitae: A prophetic and empowering document

[Joe Ronan]

Fifty years ago today saw the publication in 1968 of Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae (‘On human life’). That document went on to become one of the most controversial Papal Encyclicals of the twentieth century.  It was contentious not because it changed the teaching of the Church in any way, but because it restated the same position on contraception that the Church had held for centuries when many had expected this to change.

Compared with many recent Papal documents, Humanae Vitae is notably short, just 31 paragraphs, and a surprisingly easy read. It is written in a very direct and warm style.  It describes the value of human life, and the proper enjoyment of the gift of sex.

Much of the commentary on its 50th Anniversary is centred on the furore surrounding its release. The real story of Humanae Vitae is however how relevant and empowering it is for today’s world.

Pope Paul starts with an explanation of the context of the document. The world was in the grip of the sexual revolution and he was under considerable pressure from within the Church and without to change the teaching on contraception, particularly due to the advent of hormonal methods (‘the Pill’).  He consulted widely, and in Humanae Vitaegave his considered response – that the teaching would stay in place.

In reaching this conclusion he says that:

… human procreation, like every other question which touches human life involves more than the limited aspects specific to such disciplines as biology, psychology, demography or sociology. It is the whole man and the mission to which he is called that must be considered. [HV7]

He then goes on to analyse the demands of married love and responsible parenthood.  He describes marriage as a wise and provident institution of God which in consequence

…husband and wife, through that mutual gift of themselves , which is specific and exclusive to them alone, develop that union of two persons in which they perfect one another, cooperating with God in the generation and rearing of new lives.  [HV8]

That description is sometimes summed up more succinctly as ‘bonding and babies’; or more formally as the unitive and procreative elements of marriage.

In discussing responsible parenthood, Pope Paul recognises that for many reasons people will decide to have children; these he calls ‘prudent and generous’.  He also acknowledges that there will be those who for “serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts” decide not to have children.  He goes on however to say that they are not free to act as they choose in the service of transmitting life. They are bound to ensure that what they do corresponds to the will of God.   It is here that the necessity for ‘being open to the possibility of life’ is established, and becomes the reason for rejecting the ‘contraceptive mentality’; the closing of the door to new life, and the essential selfishness of that state. [HV10].

Later in the encyclical he talks of the natural methods of controlling conception, such as use of infertile parts of the woman’s cycle which he describes as a faculty provided by nature.   This gave rise at the time to a more rigorous exploration of such cycles (e.g. the Billings Method) and the natural family planning movement.   These methods have seen a resurgence in recent years, with continued research developing methods of natural fertility control that not only help with spacing children but also provide young women with a far better understanding of their bodies and their fertility, and so enable them to live without becoming dependent on medication or devices to control their fertility.  These methods may also provide women with fertility problems a real and effective alternative to the IVF treatments now almost exclusively offered to them.

In paragraph 17 Pope Paul made what is widely regarded as a prophetic statement.  He talks of the consequences of using artificial methods of preventing conception.  He lists these as:

  • The increase of marital infidelity;
  • A lowering of moral standards;
  • Reduced respect and care for the woman, and reducing her to a “mere instrument for satisfaction”;
  • The eventual intervention of governments in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife.

The remainder of the document addresses in turn married couples, their priests and bishops, scientists, public authorities and doctors and nurses. It asks them to realise the value of self-discipline and the promotion of chastity.  It also emphasises the importance of support and guidance, rather than admonition, and that the teaching should be given with confidence, but also with compassion.

At the time although the document was seen as counter-cultural – an attempt to hold back the tide of modern thought – it had its strong supporters. The great philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe in  a famous 1972 paper called Contraception and Chastity makes a spirited defence of the long established Christian approach, and this makes excellent complementary reading to Humanae Vitae.  Her rather pithy style of expression includes the following description of the contraceptive mentality:

Christianity taught that men ought to be as chaste as pagans thought honest women ought to be; the contraceptive morality teaches that women need to be as little chaste as pagans thought men need be.

Fifty years on someone who had not read the document, but had ‘heard all about it’ might have in their minds the caricature of the out-of-touch church wagging its collective finger at the new and liberated generation.  In fact reading the document the surprise is in how understanding Pope Paul VI was of human nature and its failings.  He draws a wonderful picture of the value of marriage, and the importance of the couple to each other as a counterpart of the relationship between God and his Church.   He understands the difficult task he is asking people to undertake in being faithful to Church teaching but also assures them of the love and the grace of God that makes it possible.

It is not often one would recommend a Papal document as an introduction to the more complex parts of Catholic doctrine, but Humanae Vitae is, along with Rerum Novarum, one of those pieces of writing that everyone should read at least once.

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Pope proposes a “new ecumenical spring” at the World Council of Churches

[Christopher White]

Pope Francis has relentlessly pursued joint ecumenical efforts with the hope of achieving Christian unity. For that reason, the very man who often avoids trips to centers of power made a special daylong “ecumenical pilgrimage” to Geneva, Switzerland on 21 June to mark the 70thanniversary of World Council of Churches (WCC).


I was on the plane covering the trip for Crux, and as I wrote prior to the trip, the theme of building a “culture of encounter” has been central to the Francis papacy. Now, in Geneva, it was time for an “encounter of churches,” where Francis joined Christian leaders from around the globe to add an extra booster shot to the Catholic Church’s collaboration with the WCC.

The WCC includes membership of 350 Christian churches from around the world, representing 560 million Christians — effectively making it the most consequential body for the task of Christian unity. While the Catholic Church is not a formal member — primarily owing to its size, which would massively overshadow the other participating churches — it does have permanent representation on one of the major committees of the WCC.

By way of background, working alongside other Christian traditions has been in Francis’ blood since he was a priest in his native Argentina. He famously would preach to thousands of Catholics and Protestants alike at Buenos Aires’ Luna Park stadium.

One of the early memorable ecumenical markers of his papacy came when in January 2014, Francis filmed an iPhone video with a close friend of his, Anglican Bishop Tony Palmer, that was screened for thousands of participants at a major Charismatic Christian convention in which Francis issued an impassioned plea for Christian unity.

“Let us allow our longing to increase so that it propels us to find each other, embrace each other and to praise Jesus Christ as the only Lord of history,” he said then. Palmer died in a tragic motorcycle accident that following July, although the Pope’s indefatigable efforts to bring about Christian collaboration have continued.

In October 2016, Pope Francis celebrated a joint prayer service with Archbishop Justin Welby, archbishop of Canterbury and head of the Anglican Church, to mark the 50thanniversary of the meeting between Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Michael Ramsey, which was an initial effort to bridge long standing divides between Catholics and Anglicans. Welby and Francis have met in person on four occasions and are planning a joint trip to the South Sudan in an effort to bring hope and healing to the war-torn country.

Also in October 2016, Pope Francis made a historical ecumenical pilgrimage to Lund, Sweden to sign a joint statement with the global Lutheran leader Bishop Munib Younan on the 500thanniversary of the Reformation. During that meeting, they pledged to work together in hopes of sharing the same Eucharist.

More recently, in February 2017, Francis visited an Anglican parish in Rome, the first time a pope visited an Anglican church in his own diocese.

All this to say, dotted throughout this papacy there have been significant gestures toward healing old wounds of conflict and bridging internal divides in Christianity.

In that spirit, he arrived in Geneva yesterday where at a joint prayer service, Francis said that living the Christian life requires both a loss of individualism and one’s particular party preferences in order to fully live out the gospel.


“To choose to belong to Jesus before belonging to Apollos or Cephas, to belong to Christ before being ‘Jew or Greek,’ to belong to the Lord before identifying with right or left, to choose, in the name of the Gospel, our brother or our sister over ourselves…in the eyes of the world, this often means operating at a loss,” he said.

Later in the afternoon — after an informal lunch with ecumenical leaders that he would go on to speak about with much enthusiasm on the in-flight press conference back to Rome — Francis recast his vision for Christian unity, where he called for a “new ecumenical spring.”

Speaking to the World Council of Churches, he challenged them to become more “missionary” in their work. Francis reminded them that in order for this new ecumenical spring and new evangelical outreach to occur, the Gospel must be first made attractive, not by “tailoring” it to the ways of the world, but instead, by living it on in joy, harkening back to his very first apostolic exhortation as pope, “The Joy of the Gospel,” which is widely considered the blue print for understanding his papacy.

For Francis, the work of Christian unity has long been centered on building the right relationships rather than a reliance on institutions to facilitate the process. While the formal work of the WCC is obviously critically important, Francis was clearly most excited about the opportunity to commune with fellow Christian pilgrims during his time on the ground.


Capping off the day, Francis celebrated a mass for 40,000 Catholics, where despite preaching to the “home team,” he still focused outward by offering the “Our Father,” — a prayer said by all Christians — as a tool for reclaiming shared Christian roots.

“The ‘Our Father’ is the prayer of us, of the Church,” he said. “It says nothing about me and mine; everything is caught up in the you of God… ‘Our Father’: these two simple words offer us a roadmap for the spiritual life.”

While many of Francis’ remarks on Thursday were focused on the specifics of Christian life, starting first with one’s own daily habits and devotions, as the necessary conditions for creating the proper spirit for unity, he didn’t hesitate to enumerate specific challenges for Christians that he said required joint witness and collaboration — among them being protecting the unborn, the elderly, migrants and refugees, persecuted Christians around the globe, and combatting the effects of climate change and environmental degradation.

En route back to Rome, many of the questions on the in-flight press conference — now considered the journalistic highlight of the trip for Francis’ free-spirited answers and candor — focused on the broader topics that he enumerated, specifically on the duty to welcome refugees and the challenges of peace.


“Every country should [welcome new arrivals] with the virtue of government, which is that of prudence, because they should welcome as many refugees as they can, educate, integrate, relieve hunger, and help them find work,” Francis said when asked about the duties government’s have to welcome those seeking refuge.

In order to make progress on any of these issues, however, Francis believes a unified church is a prerequisite.

“Our lack of unity is in fact ‘openly contrary to the will of Christ, but is also a scandal to the world and harms the most holy of causes: the preaching of the Gospel to every creature,’ he said during his first address in Geneva.

“The Lord ask us for unity; our world, torn by all too many divisions that affect the most vulnerable, begs for you,” Francis said.

Upon landing in Rome, Francis made his customary trip to pray at Santa Maria Maggiore — entrusting the fruits of his labors to the Virgin Mary — and perhaps, also saying a few lines from the Our Father, that in seeking unity, things may also be “on earth, as it is in Heaven.”

Christopher White is the national correspondent for Follow him on Twitter @CWWhite212

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Pope Francis appeals to Catholics in England and Wales to ‘open their eyes’ and ‘hear the cry’ of human trafficking victims


As the Catholic Church in England and Wales prepares for Day for Life on Sunday 17 June, Pope Francis has sent a special message to Catholics in England and Wales asking them to break the chains of captivity of those who have been trafficked and to “bring comfort to those who have survived such inhumanity.”

Day for Life is the day in the Church’s year dedicated to raising awareness about the meaning and value of human life at every stage and in every condition. This year’s Day for Life aims to raise awareness of the vile crime of human trafficking.

In his latest Apostolic Exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate, Pope Francis calls on all Catholics to see the holiness in others by recognising their dignity. He asks us all to “respond with faith and charity, and see in this person a human being with dignity” (Gaudete et Exsultate 98).

Our defence of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred… Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection (Gaudete et Exsultate 101).

Papal Blessing

Invoking the intercession of the Patron Saint of victims of human trafficking and modern slavery, St Josephine Bakhita, Pope Francis has sent his Apostolic Blessing to those marking Day for Life. The Holy Father prays “that God might free all those who have been threatened, wounded or mistreated by the trade and trafficking of human beings and bring comfort to those who have survived such inhumanity.”

Santa Marta Group

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales has responded to the rise in these inhumane crimes by developing the Santa Marta Group – a global alliance of international police chiefs, bishops and religious communities working in partnership with civil society to eliminate human trafficking and modern slavery. It is named after the house where Pope Francis lives and where the founder members stayed in 2014 prior to signing, in the presence of the Holy Father, an historic declaration of commitment. The Group now has members in over 30 countries.

 Day for Life

 Day for Life is the day in the Church’s year dedicated to raising awareness about the meaning and value of human life at every stage and in every condition. On 17 June, in England and Wales, there will be a mandatory second collection in parishes to support Day for Life. Proceeds of the collection will go to a full range of work that supports life in all its forms. This includes the Anscombe Bioethics Centre and other Church supported life activities.

In the UK alone, it is estimated that every year there are over 13,000 victims of trafficking. Day for Life asks for your prayers and donations in supporting those that work to restore their lives to the full.

Find out more at

Papal Message

The papal message and blessing was sent by the Apostolic Nuncio to Great Britain, His Excellency Archbishop Edward Adams, to Bishop John Sherrington, Bishop for Day for Life on the instructions of the Secretariat of State of His Holiness Pope Francis.

Dear Bishop Sherrington,

The Secretariat of State of His Holiness has asked me to reply to your letter of 23 April 2018, in the matter of the Day for Life, to be held in Scotland on 31 May, and in England and Wales on 17 June.

Informed by these observances, Pope Francis invokes the intercession of St Josephine Bakhita, the patron of the victims of human trafficking and modern slavery, praying that she might intercede on their behalf with the God of Mercy so that the chains of their captivity will be broken. He prays that God might free all those who have been threatened, wounded or mistreated by the trade and trafficking of human beings and bring comfort to those who have survived such inhumanity.

The Holy Father appeals to us all: that we may open our eyes and be able to see the misery of those so deprived of their dignity and their freedom, and hear their cry for help. In giving assurance of his prayers, His Holiness imparts to the organizers and participants of the Day for Life his Apostolic Blessing.

Greeting Your Excellency respectfully, I remain, in Our Lord

Archbishop Edward Joseph Adams, Apostolic Nuncio

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Cardinal Nichols’ statement on the Irish Referendum

Cardinal Nichols, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales, said:

“Today I offer my prayerful support to the Archbishops of Armagh and Dublin, Eamon Martin and Diarmuid Martin, and their statements following the Referendum in Ireland on changes to its Constitution.

“Our commitment to mothers and their unborn children remains unchanged. We must do all we can to ensure that the deliberate taking of an unborn human life is not an option that anyone would choose. The denial of life to another human being, a brother or sister, is a wrong that harms our fragile humanity. We work and pray for the day when this truth is widely accepted and laws permitting abortion are seen for what they are.

“Our pro-life convictions have to be consistently expressed in action,  in support of women who are trapped in difficult and painful circumstances and in support of the children they are carrying.

“May God bless Ireland and its generous hearted people. May that love, in every family, be a protection for the unborn, whatever the law may now permit.”

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Catholic Church complains to BBC Scotland

11-BISHOP-JOHN-KEENAN-2Bishop John Keenan, Bishop of Paisley, has today published a letter sent to the Director of BBC Scotland, Donalda MacKinnon, outlining his concerns of the corporation’s treatment of Catholics in a recent short film titled ‘Homophobia in 2018, Time for Love’.

The film, broadcast on the corporation’s digital platform, ‘The Social’, portrays hatred towards gay people and suggests Catholics are the root of the problem, with detailed references to the teachings and liturgy of the Church. With several deeply insulting and offensive representations, the video includes a clip which says the Catholic Sacrament of Holy Communion ‘tastes like cardboard and smells like hate’.

In his correspondence, dated 23 April, Bishop Keenan quotes recent Scottish Government figures which show fifty-seven per cent of religiously aggravated crime is committed against Catholics, who make up only sixteen per cent of the population. Bishop Keenan writes:

“In the current climate of growing hostility to Catholics I would appeal that the BBC guard against adding fuel to the fire.  In that regard I would ask that the Corporation now reach out to Catholics to understand their concerns, that they are being portrayed in a prejudicial way.”

Adding: “When it comes to important public debates about the wellbeing of the human person and the truth and meaning of human sexuality Catholics feel their views are becoming increasingly marginalised, almost criminalised”.

He requested a meeting with the Director to express concerns and to try to restore some breadth and fairness of critique, adding: “Catholics ask nothing more from the media than equity of treatment alongside their peers”.

The Director of the Scottish Catholic Media Office, Peter Kearney, has also sent a complaint to the Head of Public Policy and Corporate Affairs at BBC Scotland, regarding concerns the film has breached official Guidelines.

Requesting clarification as to whether the video was approved or assessed by the Head of Editorial Standards and Compliance prior to publication, he writes:

“The Guidelines make it clear that “Programme makers dealing with religious themes should be aware of what may cause offence.” While also stating “Deep offence will also be caused by profane references or disrespect whether verbal or visual, directed at deities, scriptures, holy days and rituals”. He adds: “The gratuitously disrespectful representation of the Mass constitute exactly the type of disrespect which the Guidelines seek to avoid.”

The full text of the correspondence sent to BBC Scotland is copied below.

Letter from Bishop John Keenan to BBC Scotland Director, Donalda MacKinnon

The Director
BBC Scotland
40 Pacific Quay,
G51 1DA

23 April 2018

Dear Director

I am writing to draw your attention to an edition of The Social on BBC Scotland’s digital content stream entitled Homophobia in 2018, Time for Love. 

As part of its portrayal of the hatred gay people experience in daily life it pointed to Catholics inter alia as at the root of the problem.  It went on to aver that Jesus would have wasted His time on these same Catholics who are too ‘small-minded’ to accept that same-sex ‘love is no sin’.  While making its case it opined that the Catholic Sacrament of Holy Communion ‘tastes like cardboard and smells like hate’ and depicted a priest holding up a Mini-Cheddar in parody of the Host, received by an ordinary Catholic woman attending Mass.

I was contacted by two young media producers who were upset by content that they considered to have ‘mocked’ their Catholic faith.  They appealed to me to raise the issue urgently as a matter of public debate.   In the event my Facebook page was inundated with ordinary Catholics expressing hurt and outrage at the content.  Unfortunately they had to face counter comments from opponents, whose response seemed to amount to a ‘serves Catholics right’ line of argumentation.  

Following the broadcast the archdiocese of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh worried that the BBC had sanctioned the idea that Catholics engender public hated of homosexuals.  The sense of shock has not been limited to Scotland.  Catholic media outlets have taken up the story across the English speaking world.  All have reached the same conclusion: that this content is really quite beyond the pale, and unworthy of the BBC as a public service broadcaster.

I should let you know that a Catholic woman complained and found her correspondence received a ‘completely inadequate’ reply that ‘did not even refer to the correct video’, but talked about ‘giving artists a chance’.  To her it just implied ‘contempt for those who complained’ and led her to conclude that the ‘BBC refuses to see … falsehood … and violence in their treatment of our Faith, and the repercussions this has for ordinary Catholics’.

You may be aware of disappointing Scottish Government research released this month, showing fifty-seven percent of religiously aggravated crime in Scotland is now committed against Catholics, a rise of fourteen percent, even though Catholics make up only sixteen percent of the population.  It was followed by Sunday Times findings that twenty percent of Catholics in Scotland have personally experienced abuse or prejudice on account of their faith. 

As a Catholic bishop in Scotland I feel unable to distance myself from the above complaints.  I believe this piece did somehow cross the Rubicon in the BBC’s portrayal of Catholics.  

In the current climate of growing hostility to Catholics I would appeal that the BBC guard against adding fuel to the fire.  In that regard I would ask that the Corporation now reach out to Catholics to understand their concerns, that they are being portrayed in a prejudicial way.  When it comes to important public debates about the wellbeing of the human person and the truth and meaning of human sexuality Catholics feel their views are becoming increasingly marginalised, almost criminalised’ by a narrative in BBC news, comment, arts and elsewhere that amounts to ‘LGBT views good, Catholic views bad’, an assumption which you must know is simplistic and imposed, and which is not strengthened by longitudinal research.

In this context I would like to request a meeting with you, simply to express the concerns of alienation Catholics in Scotland increasingly feel in regard to the BBC’s broadcasting values, and to see if some way cannot be found of reflecting upon editorial policy in the Corporation with a view to restoring some breadth and fairness of critique.  My hope is that it might encourage the BBC to examine how it assigns balance to different though reasonably and decently held views as to the common good of society.  Catholics ask nothing more from the media than equity of treatment alongside their peers.

The Catholic community has typically trusted, treasured and supported the BBC.  Even while the BBC has provided thorough analysis of the admitted failures of the Catholic Church in Scotland in the matter of the abuse of minors in its care, Catholics have generally continued to regard with respect the many BBC journalists and producers et al who work with integrity and balance. 

At the same time the Catholic community is now worried that some elements in the Corporation have adopted an agenda that is overtaking the BBC’s unique position as a globally respected public service broadcaster in order to substitute it with something more akin to a mouthpiece for particular agendas on sexuality and gender, not uncommonly directed against Christians in general, and Catholics specifically.

It is not only the just sensibilities of Catholics that are at stake.  The high reputation of the BBC itself, among a significant constituency of its licence payers, and more broadly, is being put into question, and can now only benefit from concerted efforts to restate its erstwhile respected and treasured place, not least in Scottish society. 

Yours sincerely,

Bishop John Keenan

Letter from Peter Kearney, Director of the Scottish Catholic Media Office to Ian Small.

Ian Small
Head of Public Policy and Corporate Affairs
BBC Scotland
Pacific Quay

Dear Ian

I’m writing to raise a serious concern held by many within the church about the content of the video produced for the BBC’s digital content stream “The Social”

While the film deals with attitudes towards homosexuality, it does so with reference, in parts, to the teachings and liturgy of the Catholic Church. Both are represented in a grossly insulting and demeaning way. The depictions appear to contravene the BBC “Producer’s Guidelines” as set out in Section 6 “Taste and Decency”, Part 9 “Religious Sensibilities”.

The Guidelines make it clear that “Programme makers dealing with religious themes should be aware of what may cause offence.” While also stating “Deep offence will also be caused by profane references or disrespect whether verbal or visual, directed at deities, scriptures, holy days and rituals”.

The gratuitously disrespectful representation of the Mass at 2m 40s and 2m 54s constitute exactly the type of disrespect which the Guidelines seek to avoid. With this in mind I am writing to ask if the video concerned was approved or assessed by Alasdair MacLeod as Head of Editorial Standards and Compliance prior to publication?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely

Peter Kearney


CC: Donalda MacKinnon, Director, BBC Scotland

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A Statement on Gender from the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales

Plenary-Statement-1024-1_mediumToday there is intense public debate about gender. It highlights not only the suffering and discomfort of some, but also raises profound questions about human nature, how we understand ourselves, relate to one another and our capacity for self-determination.

We recognise that there are people who do not accept their biological sex. We are concerned about and committed to their pastoral care. Through listening to them we seek to understand their experience more deeply and want to accompany them with compassion, emphasising that they are loved by God and valued in their inherent God-given dignity. There is a place of welcome for everyone in the Catholic Church.

Our teaching is that God creates human beings male and female: “God created man in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). This sexual difference and complementarity is within every person, for we all belong to families and draw our very existence from this complementarity. It is within the family that our lives first take shape and our identity is nurtured. These are important factors in the architecture of human relationships, orientated towards the goods of marriage, the mutual building up of each person and the flourishing of family life (CCC 2333). Indeed, the body is God’s gift. It is with and through our bodies that we make our earthly journey, with all its ambiguities, sufferings and joy. This understanding is vital for welcoming and accepting not only ourselves, and each other, but also the entire world as gifts of God. This understanding also gains greater clarity when we enter more deeply into the gift of faith and see in Jesus Christ the fullness of our human dignity and calling made clear. This is expressed in Vatican II: ‘It is only in the mystery of the Word incarnate that light is shed on the mystery of humankind’ (Gaudium et Spes 22 ). Only in the mystery of the cross of Jesus does our own suffering find new salvific depth and hope.

The idea that the individual is free to define himself or herself dominates discourse about gender. Yet our human instinct is otherwise. We know that there is so much about our lives that is foundational. Today we are faced with an ideology of gender which, in the words of Pope Francis:

denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman and envisages a society without sexual difference, thereby eliminating the anthropological basis of the family. This ideology leads to educational programmes and legislative enactments that promote a personal identity and emotional intimacy radically separated from the biological difference between male and female. Consequently, human identity becomes the choice of the individual, one which can also change over time”… It needs to be emphasised that “biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated.” (Amoris laetitia 56)

We are deeply concerned that this ideology of gender is creating confusion.

As we continue to reflect on these issues, we hope for a renewed appreciation of the fundamental importance of sexual difference in our culture and the accompaniment of those who experience conflict in their sense of self and God-given identity. We all have a duty to protect the most vulnerable.


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Statement on the case of Alfie Evans from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales


Our hearts go out to the parents of Alfie Evans and our prayers are for him and with them as they try to do all they can to care for their son.

We affirm our conviction that all those who are and have been taking the agonising decisions regarding the care of Alfie Evans act with integrity and for Alfie’s good as they see it.

The professionalism and care for severely ill children shown at Alder Hey Hospital is to be recognised and affirmed.  We know that recently reported public criticism of their work is unfounded as our chaplaincy care for the staff, and indeed offered to the family, has been consistently provided.

We note the offer of the Bambino Gesu Hospital in Rome to care for Alfie Evans.  It is for that Hospital to present to the British Courts, where crucial decisions in conflicts of opinion have to be taken, the medical reasons for an exception to be made in this tragic case.

With the Holy Father, we pray that, with love and realism, everything will be done to accompany Alfie and his parents in their deep suffering.

Wednesday 18th April 2018

A report of the meeting of the father of Alfie Evans with the Pope can be found here.

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Gaudete et Exsultate: A help for our conversion and fulfilment, not an instrument for ideological wars

[Christopher Morgan]

The day the Papal Exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate, was released a tweet was posted noting it was probably best not to read the document trying to find lines to disagree with or delighting in how the Pope called out one’s ideological enemies. It concluded “simply read and ask the Holy Spirit to help us become holier!”

Pope Francis document, known as an apostolic exhortation, entitled Gaudete et exsultate (Rejoice and be glad), is seen in this picture illustration taken at the Vatican

These are wise words because there is a real danger of the Exhortation being turned into a battleground. On the one hand some are quick to criticise what Pope Francis says and where he places the emphasis; on the other hand others are keen to extract quotes from the document to attack people whose views they disagree with. The outcome may be that rather than discussion about the document being on how we can become holier in our daily lives, it gets side-tracked into polemics.

But the central message of the Exhortation – the call to holiness – is something that should interest us all. Right at the start the Pope reminds us that “The Lord asks everything of us” and he immediately goes on “and in return he offers us true life, the happiness for which we were created.” We may have thought that holiness sounds unattractive – but we all look for happiness!

The document is full of suggestions and examples of how we can progress along this path of holiness, of true life, of happiness. There are references to the lives of the saints but also the witness of ordinary people around us – maybe our mother or grandmother or the next neighbour. The Pope is clear that to be holy one does not have to hold a particular position in the church – it can come through being a husband or wife, a parent, a worker. When we feel the temptation to dwell on our own weaknesses we can raise our “eyes to Christ crucified and say: “Lord, I am a poor sinner, but you can work the miracle of making me a little bit better.”” So we can grow in holiness, and happiness, through little steps.

The vision of holiness Pope Francis offers is practical with his explanation of the Beatitudes and the reference to the parable of the sheep and goats (“I was hungry and you gave me food… “). But he is also clear that holiness comes from and is sustained by prayer, invoking the Holy Spirit, and moments of silence before God.

Some comments on social media imply that the Pope is not saying anything new or very challenging. But is this because we take things too much for granted? For example, he says that a Christian’s mission “has its fullest meaning in Christ, and can only be understood through him. At its core, holiness is experiencing, in union with Christ, the mysteries of his life. It consists in uniting ourselves to the Lord’s death and resurrection in a unique and personal way, constantly dying and rising anew with him. But it can also entail reproducing in our own lives various aspect of Jesus’s earthly life: his hidden life, his life in community, his closeness to the outcast, his poverty and other ways in which he showed his self-sacrificing love.”   These words, the challenge and the promise they contain, will always be new. As we read them over and over again, maybe they will start to change us.

The Pope also regrets “ideologies that lead us at times to two harmful errors”. “On the one hand, there is the error of those Christians who separate [the] Gospel demands from their personal relationship with the Lord, from the interior union with him, from openness to his grace. Christianity thus becomes a sort of NGO stripped of the luminous mysticism so evident in the lives of [the saints]”. The other is found “in those who find suspect the social engagement of others, seeing it as superficial, worldly, secular, materialist, communist or populist. Or they relativize it, as if there are other more important matters, or the only thing that counts is one particular ethical issue or cause that they themselves defend.” In this passage he seems to identify the age-old argument within Christianity – whether a person is saved by deed alone or solely by faith. The tradition of the Church however teaches that we need both faith andgood works.

Much of the controversy on social media has come from the above passages and the subsequent comments referring to the defence of the unborn. Some have said the Pope is undermining the pro-life witness by placing equal emphasis on other issues of human dignity such as the plight of migrants.  Others have used this passage to criticise the pro-life movement. One thing the Pope is very clear on, at the end of the Exhortation, is that the devil is a being not a metaphor for evil. How this “evil one” must be laughing up his sleeve at the sight of committed Catholics arguing between themselves about a hierarchy of life issues rather than celebrating the fact that some commit their time to defending the unborn while others go out to address the needs of refugees and migrants!

The Pope finishes: “Let us ask the Holy Spirit to pour out upon us a fervent longing to be saints for God’s greater glory, and let us encourage one another in this effort. In this way, we will share a happiness that the world will not be able to take from us.” Let us encourage one another, even when our sensibilities are different. Let us use this Exhortation to seek for greater holiness and so a fuller life and greater happiness.


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