Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Gianna Jessen and the hatred of life

No doubt one of the unmentionable elephants in the national lounge during the pope's visit in September will be the abortion rate. In 2007 - the latest figures I could find without spending the afternoon looking further - abortions in the UK numbered 198,000 for the year. To put it in a more concrete way, that figure is more or less the equivalent of the population of Newcastle.

In this regard, I was fascinated recently to come across Gianna Jessen. Jessen, an American born in 1977, is the survivor of a botched instillation abortion. She lasted eighteen hours in the womb, burning in the saline solution the doctors had injected into her mother's body to procure Gianna's death. She now suffers from cerebral palsy, though she calls it her 'gift'. To shame us all, she has already run two marathons, and plans to run more. Incredibly, her first foster parents treated her badly, but she was eventually adopted by a family who loved her deeply and raised her to be a most remarkable speaker - caustic, witty, profound - and advocate of the prolife cause.

How many of us English Catholics, mitred or merely baptised, could say with Jessen, "I know I am hated because I declare life"?

Prepare to be humbled.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Monday, 30 August 2010

The sting in the tail - Part II

Sorry about the interlude. It's been a busy time these last few days but I am now back in the parental pile for a little while. As I was saying ...

Endean does a two-step shimmy at the end of his piece in The Tablet.

The first is to provide four guidelines for a sensitive implementation of the new translation. Acknowledge there are arguments on both sides of translation practice; acknowledge there are conflicting concerns in how the translations are made (cultural, linguistic) and desist from name calling; recognise that reverence and accessibility are theologically complementary; only say in public what you actually believe.

Now, one could pick holes in any one of these guidelines. How, for example, does Endean think the great mysteries of the faith can be accessible (in the way in which we know he means 'accessible')? But we'll let that pass. What I'm interested in, rather, is his remark at the end of the guidelines:

Pastoral sensitivity to different voices is also a recognition of the truth that those voices may be expressing. And therefore - this is a paradox that a pluralist vision can never avoid - these guidelines [that is, Endean's] disallow, absolutely, understandings of truth as coming only from one source. They would lead us somewhere different from where we now are, on much else as well as on liturgical matters.

Where does one start with that? Some decent, straightforward, normal-sounding English would be a help. I think what he means is this:

Pastoral sensitivity to different voices recognises the truth that those voices may be expressing. And therefore - this is a paradox that a pluralist vision can never avoid - these guidelines [that is, Endean's] totally rule out the idea that truth only comes from one source. The correlations of these guidelines apply not just to liturgy but to other matters .

There are several problems here. But, first, however much people like Bishop Arthur Roche dress up the new translation in ecclesiastical stardust and polished DVD presentations, the fact is that no sensible churchman imagines that translation is a truth matter like doctrine or dogma is. What exactly is Endean getting at? So what if there can be other viable translations? Someone, somewhere has to call the shots, and actually settle the matter in a canonical manner, because the Church is a community and needs rules to function coherently. This is on the level of the squareness of the square and the roundness of the wheel. Legislation isn't a denial of the value of other ways of doing things; but it is a source of order, and when it has been duly considered, it is the responsibility of the Church's ministers to implement it accordingly, not whine like a princess whose frog is a bit too slimy for bilabial contact.

But, what on earth is Endean saying when he declares, 'these guidelines [that is, Endean's] disallow, absolutely, understandings of truth as coming only from one source'? If Endean means only 'translation truth', then the remark is redundant, since nobody imagines translation resides in the province of truth. If Endean means theological truth, then he is not strictly wrong - we could distinguish theological sources and methods in all their plurality, as well as charismatic or prophetic insights into truth - but the tenor of his argument is that truth as validated by authority is not unique. In which case, what other sources does Endean think can validate truth for us? Is he begging for more receptiveness to charism and prophecy or is he advancing the case for a democratic or congregationalist form of teaching? Is he setting up some other magisterium, other than the ecclesial? Or - let's be flippant for a moment - does Endean think we should look to The Tablet for corroboration of the truth? Or to Endean himself perhaps? And if not, to whom then? Whose are these other voices which he has insisted on anyway?

Still, wait for the sting in the tail:

They [the guidelines] would lead us somewhere different from where we now are, on much else as well as on liturgical matters.

Would they now? Where then? And if not just on liturgical matters, on what other matters?

The last remark seems like a give away when you think about it. You, like me, thought this article was about the new translation, but Endean tells us here that his guidelines are about 'liturgical matters', and that they apply elsewhere. But where exactly? To flower arranging? Horse racing? Polite conversation? Just where is Endean advocating the pluralism of truth which he has just argued for?


Well, if that was not enough, Endean dresses up his article in some very odd robes to finish off with. Having just suggesting the value of pluralism in various areas - who knows which exactly? - Endean finishes with what strikes me as a flourish that borders on the disingenuous:

This new translation, both in its content and in the manner of its imposition, represents a retreat from the salutary, evangelical reform of church style and mood that Vatican II represented.

Well, I'm not going to deny that there are some salutary features of church style and mood that were brought in by Vatican II. But Endean is smart enough and well-educated enough to know that this is not the whole story. He is surely well-enough versed in theology to know the serious complaints that have been made against the old 'new translations' and which did not result purely from different translation styles. In other words, he knows fine well that he cannot dress up the post-Vatican II era as a period of happy church-mood change, without acknowledging the serious doctrinal upheaval and confusion that have accompanied it! So why on earth is he trying to slip this shimmy in at the end of his article? It looks seriously like a sleight of hand of the most dubious kind.

The new translations are not a sign of the return of the abusive exercise of power. What is abusive is the way in which Endean uses the argument over the new translations to foreground his rather manipulative - because vague - insinuations about pluralism within the Church, and then tries to dress this up as a matter of happy style change.

Endean must decide if his argument is about mood and style or about truth. Anything else is just flannel.

And that, as every good Jesuit knows, can only to be rightfully deployed with a rollneck jumper and casual jacket.

Wifi and bank-holiday woes

Sorry, I did promise Part 2 of a post on Endean's Tablet article but the dodgy wifi connection where I'm staying, and the business of the bank holiday - not to mention the 200 mile car journey I'm making later from Hereford to Manchester - have rather got in the way. I'll be back this evening, I promise!

Meanwhile, the sun is apparently shining this fine bank-holiday Monday... somebody pinch me!

Saturday, 28 August 2010

The sting in the tail

I can already feel the mounting wave of outrage at Philip Endean's article 'Worship and Power' in the new edition of The Tablet. Damian Thompson has already called for Catherine Pepinster to resign as editor. I dare say other blogs will pipe the same tune over the next few days.

On reading Endean's article my own impression was somewhat different. Endean's attempt to compare the imposition of the new translation to the abuse of clerical authority during the sex abuse scandals conjures up for me the image of some defeated hussar being overrun by the enemy and finally removing his boots and helmet so they too can be hurled at the advancing foe. I nearly fell of my chair and could have woken the whole house laughing at Endean's complaint that change had to be handled with sensitivity. That's what we call Gander Sauce. Still, if Endean's enmity is clear - and I acknowledge he is trying mightily hard to be civil to his adversaries his weapon might as well be a clay blunderbuss.

It is hard to extract from Endean's article the evidence that proves the main plank of his argument that there has been an abuse of power in the development of the new translation. The one bit of hard stuff - that he, as a consultor of the new translation process, was told to maintain secrecy about the draft translation of the Ordinary which he had seen - is, in the event, rather flimsy. Confidentiality is a fairly standard procedure in all sorts of professional contexts. Dressing it up as proof of an abusive power culture is just plain silly.

As far as I can make out, Endean seems to be saying that because there can be arguments against Liturgiam authenticam, then its implementation is a serious problem. But that too is flannel. One can think of a hundred objections to every piece of legislation. Hinting that the consultation has not been wide enough but then admitting that Archbishop Coleridge has acclaimed the consultative nature of the new translation's development seems rather like sawing off the branch on which one is sitting. Happy landings.

The real point of this article, however, comes towards the end in a two-step shimmy.

But I'll save that for tomorrow.


Of your charity please pray for Brother Stephen Morrison of the Norbertine Priory in Chelmsford who makes his first vows today, the feast of Saint Augustine.

Friday, 27 August 2010

In the desert

I am currently enjoying a few days break in the far west of Wales where, to my surprise, I have found an internet connection! When I say the far west, I do not of course mean to imply the 'wild west'. But more of that anon.

I am as it happens staying with my bethrothed's family, and so it was that yesterday morning we found ourselves at a loose end and willingly jumped in the car to zip up to Dolgellau ...

Where in the middle of the town we came across a Carmelite nun doing her shopping. We had known there was a Carmel in the town but had no idea where to find it. Until Sister Pauline Mary came to our rescue. She took our names with all the enthusiasm of someone you know will pray very hard for you and then directed us to their little oasis where we prayed in the desert, the desert which is twenty-first century Wales.

And the wild west? Well, Sister PM was from San Francisco. What on earth she was doing in the west of Wales I cannot say. Avoiding the gay culture? That's possible of course. I prefer to think she was there praying over the barren rock of the British Isles.

Belmont tomorrow. Happy thought.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010


I am just about to disappear on holiday until next Monday. It's a dirty trick to play on you, I know, after starting blogging again only last week. But there you have it.

Still, I cannot leave without passing a remark on the news that the pope might issue a Motu Proprio to try to shoehorn the SSPX into a settlement. Rorate Caeli reported the news this week, after Bishop Richard Williamson, peace be upon him, mentioned a possible Motu Proprio in his now rather dull and predictable weekly Dinoscopus newsletter. We can probably be forgiven for casting an ironic eye on most things coming from that quarter, but what should we make of it all, and of the prospect of a reconciliation soon?

First, I don't believe it. It sounds like the kind of thing invented to make a bit of a splash in an otherwise uneventful month for news. I'm not saying +BW invented it; only that this sounds like talk, doubling as discussion, doubling as possibility, doubling as prospect.

Second, even if I did believe it, I don't think for a moment that the SSPX would agree to sign up to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and I don't think Pope Benedict would think he were offering any kind of solution by merely asking them to do so.

Last, I don't actually think the SSPX will ever make an agreement with Rome until they can recognise two salient and unassailable realities:

1) The endgame of the division will not be Rome coming to recognise that the SSPX were right all along. It won't, so stop assuming that right now! The endgame will be when Rome has given due consideration to all the argumentation and come to a decision about it. That is how all ecclesiological division has to be settled, at least in the Catholic Church. Even if the SSPX believe they have played a prophetic role, they cannot place that role above hierarchical authority. Or, they can, but then they will end up like every schismatic wound on the body of Christ.

2) They will have to accustom themselves to current conditions: that the Church is a big, bad place with a lot of nastiness going on inside it, that things cannot change overnight, that papal decrees change little on the ground without willing, holy, humble work among the clergy and the laity, that no Catholic group can hold itself competent to judge of all the manifestations of Catholicity, etc., etc.

Hands up all those who think the SSPX will ever recognise those things?

We live in hope of course. Break not the bruised reed.

Kyrie eleison, indeed, your Lordship.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Authority and truth in the crosshairs

The pope will soon visit England and it is currently hard to tell who have their knickers in a greater twist about the event: the liberals, who have long been disturbed by Joseph Ratzinger's blend of orthodoxy and intellectual credibility, or the conservatives, who are currently suffering apoplexy at the way in which the papal visit is being undermined by hapless organisation and tosh liturgical music. I hardly need repeat the facts which are well known to anyone who follows the Catholic press and the blogs. Personally, I take less and less interest in such matters these days, mostly because I am sick to death of the way in which partisans on all sides insist on daubing their own image on the Church's public life. I'm minded to write an ecclesial version of Guy Debord's La Société du spectacle. I'll call it the L'Eglise du spectacle and it will examine how the exchanges which characterise ecclesial life are commodified by a kind of tribalistic and atomising standoff in which we are all tempted to participate.

Still, who would read it and who would care? Power and rage are such satisfying passions. And such, as far as I can tell, are probably the achilles heels of the liberals and the conservatives, at least when the liberals are in the ascendency. When the conservatives are in the ascendency, well ... it is the conservatives who enjoy the power and the liberals who enjoy the rage. My old master Bernanos was right when he compared these forces to the constipated and the diarrhoeic. Their symptoms could be relieved respectively by prunes and rice. If only conflict were so easily resolved.

But, some say, the conservatives are causing endless trouble with their incessant griping before the papal visit. But, say others, the liberals are subverting the papal visit both by incompetence and by imposing their grotesque version of liturgical practice on the Hyde Park event. Dear friends, but me no buts. Neither complaint will do exactly. What I'm interested in is why one side wishes to use power to bash the papal visit into its own image, while the other side wishes to use truth ... to bash the papal visit into its own image. Naturally, I have more sympathy for the latter instinct. But both parties look like they want to aggrandise their own selves. The proof is to be seen in the ways in which hierarchical power is often exercised without love - and I dare say the Birmingham Three scandal falls into this category - and the way in which prophetic truth is often declaimed without charity (cue more conservative apoplexy as the Holy Smoke page loads).


This is in fact an old story. It is a question of Revolution and Counterrevolution. I remember Dr David Alan White, the literary light of American Traditionalists, saying that conservatives who embraced such conflict were buying into a Hegelian model of the culture wars. But, I believe, the good doctor was wrong.

It is not the synthesis that is so pernicious in the clash of the Revolution and the Counterrevolution - though it is very pernicious - so much as the mimesis of the two parties. What is frightening about the clash is not how very different the parties are, but how unconciously alike they become. The devil succeeds most not when he is the adversary but when he acts as the ape of God. When we learn that lesson, there might be a chance for us to see authority exercised with love and truth declaimed with humility.

Friday, 20 August 2010

What a gay day

Catholic Care, the only - as far as I know - Catholic Adoption agency to fight the implications of the Sexual Orientations Regulations which were part of the 2006 Equality Act, have lost their fight again the Charity Commission. They will not now be able to continue functioning as a charity while excluding gay parents from adoption.

Catholic Care had taken a very interesting line of defence. What they maintained was that if Catholic Care was denied the right to discriminate against gay adoptors, then their funding would dry up because the official Catholic Church and some Catholic supporters would cease to fund them. In coming to a decision about whether to accept this argument, the Charity Commission considered whether recognising such a right would involve an unjustified contravention of the right of homosexuals to adopt. In the end, they decided it would.

What staggers me about Catholic Care's submission is that their justification for exclusively heterosexual adoption was that it alone imitates the model of the Holy Family at Nazareth. If it didn't sound so impious, I would say that in this context, in this argument, and in this submission, such a concept smacks of pious twaddle. So, let's not say 'pious twaddle' but rather 'incipient fideism'. Who the devil thought of defending a Catholic agency in the public square on grounds that could only be urged in canonical courts? Nice one, our Maurice (whoever you are). There is a solid, reasonable defence of their position in natural law alone, so why on earth were they not making it?

Curiously, the Charity Commission have, according to the BBC, said that the closure of the charity would not harm the interests of children. Logically, one can only assume its continued operation would, therefore, be of little use to children either. The only objective of this closure then is not the good of the children but the rights of homosexuals.

It's nice to think that the rights of homosexuals come in ahead of a child's right to a home in modern day Britain, and that such a case can be justified by the Charity Commission deciding that Catholic Care never made a difference anyway. You couldn't make this stuff up.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

The tax man cometh

I'm reading Keith Floyd's autobiography at the moment. I only started watching Floyd this year after buying his Floyd Round the Med on DVD. His cookery is fabulous, but frankly, his autobiography is a lot of dreadful trash. I do not recommend it!

Still, like all boozers, Floyd has a wealth of good stories, such as this one ...

One time Floyd was flown out to Sydney to do a pasta commercial. The whole experience was awful for him, especially since by this time he was fed up with celebrity, sick of the public joke that his drinking had become, and just generally depressive, as many great artists are. Still, no doubt that was why on the day he finished the job and was handed a bankers draft for £100,000, he went back to his hotel, had a slap up meal and began to get slowly sozzled. Floyd's description of his drinking is somewhat defensive. He drank for the qualities of the booze, he says. He was more interested in how a wine suited the food he was eating, rather than in inebriation. His taste for whisky on the other hand was directly therapeutic in the worst possible sense.

That evening in the Sydney hotel was like so many others that he could not remember and seemed to end only when he awoke in a fog the next morning in his room. There he experienced again the warm feeling of having pocketed £100,000 for only a few hours work in which the most annoying thing was being asked to say 'paster' rather than pasta. Australitas oblige. And he reached over to his jacket pocket to feel once more the comforting rustle of a very large cheque ... except now it wasn't there.

Sobered in an instant he searched his room in vain for the draft, the payee of which was open and which could have been cashed (so he says) by anybody. He smoked cigarette after cigaarette, sitting on his bed in chastened horror. In despair he dashed finally to the hotel reception to summon the management and announce his cheque had been lost. Gulping hard, the hotel staff sprung into action. They checked the restaurant, they checked the laundry. Looking at Floyd's dishevelled morning condition, the manager called out to his staff, 'And check the bars as well.' And still no cheque. It was beginning to sink in for Floyd that he had managed to cross the world for the easiest £100,000 ever earned, only to lose the fruits of his labours in an alcoholic mist...

Until a well-dressed gentleman entered the hotel, clutching an envelope in which was found Floyd's banker draft safe and sound.

The man, it turned out, was from the Australian Inland Revenue and had attended a dinner at the hotel the night before. Spotting Floyd late in the evening - who by that time was well in his cups - he came over and chatted to the great chef for a while, and finally decided to ask for his autograph before leaving. 'I've got a pen but no paper,' the inspector said. 'Don't worry,' said the sozzled, fumbling Floyd, 'I've got some paper here in my pocket ...'


It is almost a year since he died. RIP.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Starting as we mean to go on

Music was always a big part of The Sensible Bond so here'a little tune to get you jiving as we approach Tuesday. This is proof that everyone has at least one song in them, just like everyone has at least one book. I recommend stopping the video after four minutes. The remaining four minutes consist of Koreans clapping a two-chord riff and Mraz warbling hopelessly. Still, nobody's perfect.

Going out to the East Dulwich Massive. Respect.

The Sensible Bond returns

Like Bertie Wooster in Sir Roderick Glossop's living room, there is only one thing to say at the beginning of the return of The Sensible Bond:

'Well, here we are again, what!'

But why? Hmmm. Good question.

There is an urban legend which recounts the story of a prospective student going to sit an entrance examination for one of the Oxford colleges. The professor who set the entrance examination that year was something of a clever-dick, a man anxious to keep the standards in college as high as possible. Accordingly, he pored over the problem he wanted to set the prospective students with more than his usual scholarly assiduity.

When our prospective student opened his paper during the examination, his eyes fell on the following instuctions:

Please answer the question as fully as possible. Ask for extra sheets of paper as necessary.

Question. Why?

Answer. ...


After the examination, the examiner, our clever-dick professor, bowled back to his Oxford fellow's den with something of the effeminate bustle acquired by many disorganized intellectuals. Donning his reading glasses, and opening the first paper in the pile of examination papers (as it happens, the paper of our prospective student), his eyes fell on the following response to his carefully crafted puzzler:

Question. Why?

Answer. ...Why bloody not?

The legend is enticing, although one has to suspect that if it is true, the student in question had already decided he would not go to Oxford and that he might as well pass out of his entrance examination with flying colours. As one officer said to cartoon legionary Beau Peep: 'Have you heard of the expression "with flying colours?'" 'Yes?' 'Well, I have to tell you, Peep, that you failed "with flying colours"'.


So, there we have it. The Sensible Bond rides again. And why? Well, now you know the answer.

It's not big, it's not funny and it's not clever, at least not to a certain readership.

Still, hypocrite lecteur, mon semblable, mon frère, it is what it is. You're very welcome.