Sunday, March 29, 2015

In support of our priests, our families and our Church

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

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

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

Mark Lambert ( or Andrew Plasom-Scott (

The Letter:

Dear Sir,
We, the undersigned, wish to endorse and support the letter signed by over 450 priests in the recent edition of the Catholic Herald,
As laity, we all know from our own family experiences, or those of our friends and neighbours, the harrowing trauma of divorce and separation, and we sympathise with all those in such situations.
It is precisely for that reason that we believe that the Church must continue to proclaim the truth about marriage, given us by Christ in the Gospels, with clarity and charity in a world that struggles to understand it.
For the sake of those in irregular unions, for the sake of those abandoned and living in accordance with the teachings of the Church, and above all for the sake of the next generation, it is essential that the Church continues to make it quite clear that sacramental marriage is indissoluble until death.
We pray, and expect, that our hierarchy will represent us, and the Church’s unwavering teaching, at the Synod this autumn.
Yours faithfully, 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Rush to Judgement: Ireland's McAlpine Scandal

A disastrous case of mistaken identity, a man appallingly smeared as being that most hated of beings, a paedeophile on twitter as the BBC's flagship news programme flails around like a punchdrunk boxer from one editorial crisis to another and shamefaced apologies once the galloping excitement of a hot story fades away to reveal that it was built on extremely rickety foundations. Surprised? Not me.

Those of us who keep an eye on the Irish scene are familiar with the case of one Father Kevin Reynolds.

In May 2011, RTE, the Irish state broadcaster ran a report on its Prime Time Programme imaginatively entitled Mission To Prey which alleged that Reynolds had raped a girl during his time as a missionary in Kenya, fathered her child and was paying her financial support. Both mother and child were interviewed by the programme.

Reynolds swore that he was innocent, even offering to take a DNA test before the programme aired to demonstrate conclusively that he wasn't the father of the child concerned but RTE rejected his offer. It had to be true. Reynolds was a Catholic priest, after all and we all know what they get up to once they strip off their cassocks.

Sometime after the programme had aired and the mob had had its fill of denouncing priestly paedophiles two separate and independent DNA tests confirmed that Father Reynolds was not the father of the child but by then the damage had been done. Reynolds had been removed from his home and parish ministry, his name demolished.

RTE broadcast an apology to Father Reynolds - stop me if this is sounding familiar - and Reynolds went on to win an out of court settlement with the broadcaster.

In the aftermath of the Reynolds debacle the Irish media indulged in ritual hand wringing. Why had such a catastrophic error been made, how could it have occurred. At least part of the explanation was the climate of suspicion which hovered over Catholic priests, religious and institutions whereby all allegations of child abuse were treated as being proven whether or not they'd been tested against evidence. In a reverse of the usual liberal principle that people are innocent until proven guilty, priests like Father Reynolds were presumed guilty of any allegation levelled against them. This was a climate which had been nurtured by close to two decades worth of increasingly lurid splash stories of clerical sex abuse, dubious claims about canon law, theorising about Vatican-orchestrated cover ups, infuriated editorials and opinion columns which raced from assuming a particular Catholic clerical problem with child abuse to speculating about the reasons for the supposed problem. By 2011 the Irish clerical abuse witch hunt juggernaut was hurtling forwards at full speed; anyone putting themselves in its path by counselling caution was unlikely to be paid much attention. All the conditions for the broadcasting of a defamatory story were present.


It may be difficult for people to remember the atmosphere around the Jimmy Savile story a month ago. It can fairly be described as excitable. Newsnight had declined to air a report about the late entertainer, editor Peter Rippon said for sound editorial reasons. The commentariat wasn't satisfied with that explanation, neither clearly was the Newsnight journalist who had made the canned report, Liz Mackean. The commentariat raged, a committee of MPs hauled George Entwhistle to parliament to answer questions about the decision not to run the report. Revelations about Savile's activities tumbled from the tabloids day after day, scores of BBC veterans insisted that Savile had a reputation for untoward behaviour with teenage girls, Paul Gambaccini went even further saying that Savile was a necropiliac and the NSPCC declared that Savile may have been the most prolific offender it had come across.

Few people paused to consider the mysterious story of a faked police letter which had undermined the original Newsnight report or to ask how appropriate it was for the NSPCC to make such a breathless statement before the police had concluded their enquiries into Savile. And blogger, Anna Raccoon, who'd been a resident at Duncroft Approved School in the 60s when Savile was said to have used the place as a service stop catering to his taste in young girls but couldn't recall ever having seen him there found the news media distinctly uninterested in what she had to say. It didn't fit the narrative, it didn't advance the speed of the child abuse witch hunt juggernaut.

All the conditions for the broadcasting of a defamatory story were present.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Assange and the Left, some reflections on paranoia and credulity

There is a part of the left which has a problem with paranoia. This phenomenon is widely recognised within the left itself; I've heard socialists of all stripes joke about this or that comrade's propensity to speaking sotto voce on the phone and taking other elaborate precautions in case they are being bugged by Special Branch.

Then there's the tendency to secrecy. From the slogans which used to be daubed on Irish Republican council estate walls warning people that "lose talk costs lives" at one end to the odd case of the French far left party, Lutte Ouvriere keeping shtum about the death of party leader, Robert Barcia aka Hardy for a year, parts of the left have long operated by Russian revolutionary Vyacheslav Menzhinsky's dictum that "the main merit of a chekist is to keep silent."

I say this by way of background to the ongoing Assange saga and specifically the examples of prominent socialists and others in public life who've been vocal in their defence of the wikileaks' founder. It seems obvious to me that Assange isn't the most credible of characters for reasons which can be found here and here, yet many of his defenders are admirable, intelligent people. How is this paradox to be explained?

Some see Wikileaks and Julian Assange as quasi-religious cult and certainly there are elements of truth in that; witness the hero worship this strange man attracts, the refusal to consider that he may be anything less than perfect, the bald insistence that he has been set up by the Great Satan.

However, I think that explanation only takes us so far: as historical materialists have argued since Feuerbach, the question isn't that people believe in something strange but why they believe in that strange something.

Some of the Assangist phenomenon seems like a generational thing, a hangover from the high water mark of conspiracy theories, the 60s and 70s, which also happened to coincide with the rise of the New Left. The dazzling - or decrepit, depending on how you look at it - list of countercultural names which have attached themselves to the Assange bandwagon, the John Pilgers, Bianca Jaggers, Tariq Alis, the veteran signatories of worthy round robins to the Guardian letters page, those globetrotting demonstration leaders and party goers who speak and think in terms of military industrial complexes. These are people who seem not to have settled into wise senescence with ease.

That aside, I think a key part of the answer lies in the Left's historic memory of infiltration and dirty tricks and the conspiratorial mentality and practices it adopted in response to them. Perhaps the best example of a state agent who reached the very top of a hard left party is Roman Malinovsky, tellingly invoked by the AWL's Jim Denham here. There were many others. In the late 60s and early 70s - notice that time span - Special Branch officers infiltrated British left wing movements, they dressed the part the better to blend in with their targets and were known as "hairies". And across the pond in the last month it's been alleged that the late civil rights activist and Black Panther Party member, Richard Aoki was an FBI informant.

Consider too that some of the prominent figures who've been supportive of Assange have real life experience of miscarriages of justice, the obvious example here being the human rights lawyer, Gareth Pierce who spent years fighting the Guildford Four case.
Put simply, if widespread sophisticated infiltration is part of your political experience, it isn't wholly surprising if you're sympathetic to the Assange narrative of a dirty-tricks conspiracy involving three Western governments and two female agents provocateurs.

But all the explanations in the world cannot render the sight of leftists losing their hearts and heads to a self-aggrandising shyster any less pitiable. It isn't only its rational clear-sightedness that the left is abandoning in favour of the deceptive glamour of romanticism but also its conscience.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Edith Stein, Patron Saint of Modernity

Today is the feast day of St Edith Stein.

Edith Stein, or Theresa Benedicta of the Cross as she became, is one of my favourite saints because fascinated as I am by the relationship between Catholicism and Modernity, she is a quintessentially modern saint. From her questing searching psyche which saw her experiment with different ideologies before settling on Catholicism, through the stymieing of her academic career on account of her gender, to her tragic end in a bleak Auschwitz gas chamber, she seems to embody much of the soaring turbulent 20th Century.

In 1933 she began work on her memoirs, entitled Life in a Jewish Family. True to her extraordinary form she left posterity a fascinating portrait of German Jewish life just before calamity befell it. And yet, there's something troubling about the forward she writes, which you can read here, for in it she articulates a touchingly naive faith in the power of honest writing to divert people away from racial hatred.

Her forward is dated 21 September 1933. Less than two months later, the ominous forward to genocide was scrawled across German and Austrian streets: Kristallnacht.

Rather than Edith Stein's appeal to empathy it was arguably the restless head of a revolutionary movement, Lev Bronstein who understood with grim realism that fascism was a menace of such magnitude that the only debate which could be permitted with its adherents was, as he put it, to acquaint their heads with the pavement.

And yet when the smoke of total war cleared and Europeans gazed frankly at the devastation around them, resolving to build their New Jerusalems and vowing Never Again to allow such terrible things to happen and once the period of rebuilding had come to an end and people relaxed into the sunny optimistic 60s, books not unalike Edith Stein's started appearing in municipal libraries and schools throughout the West. These slim volumes of benign propaganda invited white European readers into the ordinary homes of non white immigrants. Their message: these Rastafarian, or Muslim, or Chinese or Turkish families are not so different to you.

Edith Stein, the avant garde, yes she is a very modern saint.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Phyllis Bowman

Phyllis Bowman, the UK's leading Pro Life campaigner has died. She was 85.

I had the privilege of knowing her in recent years.

Much has already been written about her irreplaceable contribution to the Pro Life cause which I do not propose to replicate here; mere words, after all, cannot record the totality of her work and the scale of her commitment to the weakest and most vulnerable.

I will say, however, that though she stood just 5 foot tall, she was the only Pro Life campaigner of distinction in this country. The reason for this, I think, was that Phyllis did not come from the kind of background you would expect a Pro Lifer to come from. She wasn't born a Catholic - she came from a Sephardi Jewish family, was intensely proud of her roots and had a rich appreciation for the religion of her ancestors - and went on to become a Fleet Street journalist in the heady years of the postwar boom. An anti-war activist, she was in many ways the archetypal left-leaning 60s liberal who was enthusiastic about the social reform causes of that time. She had a tolerant attitude to people's private lives, never had any patience with homophobia and was a lifelong genuine anti-racist.

Her Pro Life values were a continuation of her 60s left-liberalism, not a departure from them. Accordingly they were suffused with her innate humanitarianism. Not for Phyllis any sanctimonious moralising or bland feel-good platitudes. Phyllis's language reflected her vivacity and could when the occasion required be deliciously pungent. "I can see around corners," she once told me with a bewitching smile, adding naughtily "it's the Jew in me."

There was nothing of the marble figurine about Phyllis Bowman. She was, rather, a magnificent, beguiling diva. When Phyllis spoke you listened, when Phyllis commanded you obeyed, for she spoke with authority; when Phyllis upbraided you, you were aware of the fact that she, no respecter of the false divisions of class and social status, had upbraided many a high and mighty politician too and that you damned well deserved her censure.

She was wise, she could be infuriating, she was always charming but most of all Phyllis Bowman was tender-hearted. I recall with affection her many personal kindnesses to me. There is a Hebrew word which describes her: Chesed. It means loving-kindness. That was what she was.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Questions to which the answer is yes

Saturday, December 31, 2011

This is how I will remember 2011

It's one of the incredible scenes of protest in Cairo's Tahrir Square, which forced the ousting of a blood-stained kleptocracy and embodies all the joyousness of the Arab Spring. True, the battle is far from over in Egypt but just for once, bliss it was that dawn to be alive and I thank God Vaclav Havel lived to see it.

Do we have to go on like this?

Remember this moment?  

Or this one?

Or this one?

I'm sorry to have to spell things out so bluntly to you but ask yourselves in all sincerity whether you are content with the fact that Pro Life in the UK is about as threatening to the status quo as Mr Bean would be to Mike Tyson at his most ferocious prime.

If your answer to that is a resounding NO then take another look at my post about SPUC and please, reflect on it.