Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Meriam Charged Again

The story of Sudanese Catholic Meriam Ibrahim has taken another twist as the authorities have now charged her again, this time with document fraud. Authorities have claimed that her travel documents have been falsified: because she uses her Christian name rather than the Muslim name she had when a child, the authorities claim this is fraud. It may well have been lack of prudence on her part, but these charges seem as ridiculous as the original ones which saw her condemned to death. She will not be permitted to leave Sudan and will probably face trial again. She's out on bail for now.

The authorities in the Sudan are determined to get this woman one way or another and it seems to me, and to many others, that the source of their animosity is her being a Christian. The extreme Islamic regime in Sudan will not permit freedom when it comes to religion, and certainly not to those Muslims who hear the call of Christ and seek to enter into his Church. Meriam's story is just another example of what many Christians are suffering in many parts of the world. 

Let us continue to remember her in our prayers. For us in countries where many Catholics drift through their lives barely acknowledging what Christ has done for them, Meriam's faithful witness to the Lord and his Gospel is a wake up call. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Meriam Arrested Again

Meriam Ibrahim with her husband (L), children and legal team after her release in Khartoum on 23 June 2014

Just hours after she was released, Catholic woman Meriam Ibrahim has been arrested again, this time with her husband and their children, son Martin, 21 months, and month old daughter Maya, born in prison. The family had been waiting at Khartoum airport for a flight out of Sudan. According to reports the family were taken into custody by forty National Intelligence and Security Service agents, dubbed the "Agents of Fear".

As you know Meriam was condemned to death by a court in Sudan having being found guilty of apostasy and adultery. Meriam's father was Muslim, and even though she was baptised and brought up as an Orthodox Christian, under Islamic law she is considered a Muslim and so she is considered an apostate. For marrying a non-Muslim man, she is considered an adulteress. Meriam entered the Catholic Church prior to her marriage to American Daniel Wani.

No reason has been given for the family's arrest. Let us pray for this poor woman, our sister in faith, who has given tremendous witness to her Catholic faith. Whatever is going on, let ask Our Lady to assist this family and ensure that they can get out of Sudan and back safely to the US. We should also invoke St Josephine Bakhita, Sudan's Saint.

Following this story over the last number of months I am puzzled by one thing: why the silence from the White House? Given Barack Obama's concern for human rights, why has he and his wife, also well known for her activism, particularly in area of women's rights, said nothing? See Fr Longenecker for some thoughts on this one. I presume now that an American citizen has been taken into custody someone in Washington will have to do something.

UPDATE: News is coming through that Meriam, Daniel and their children have been released. Let's pray that they will be free to leave the Sudan as soon as possible. A prayer of thanksgiving to Our Lady and St Josephine, and continued petition for their safe exodus.

Papal Heroism

The Holy Father's condemnation of the Mafia has had considerable coverage around the world. As you all know Pope Francis said that those in the Mafia were not in communion with God, but excommunicated. Strong words rightly expressed at demonic organisations that have had too much power and influence in Italy and beyond for far too long. There are some questions which are being asked.

The first: can the Pope excommunicate an organisation? Yes and no. An organisation is not a person so it cannot be excommunicated, although it can be proscribed, condemned and shown to be operating in opposition to God and his teachings. However members of an organisation can be excommunicated for being members of that organisation simply by joining it. The best example of this is that of the Freemasons - once a Catholic joined the Freemasons they incurred an automatic excommunication.

The second: are the members of the Mafia now formally excommunicated? Well, that's a question for the canon lawyers, but it seems to me that they are not formally excommunicated because the Holy Father has not (yet) issued a formal decree proscribing the Mafia and placing an automatic excommunication on those who join it or cooperate with it. The Holy Father was given an exhortation and in it he was condemning the Ndrangheta and telling its members that they have broken communion with God and the Church through their activities.

Concerns have now been expressed for the safety of the Holy Father: will the Mafia retaliate? There is a possibility that they will, but I do not think they will attack the person of the Pope, such an action would probably lead to serious tensions with the ordinary people who tolerate or turn a blind eye to their activities but whose silence protects the mafiosi. To kill a popular Pope like Francis could have nightmare consequences for the killers. 

That said, we cannot rule out some sort of retaliation: denunciations and condemnations by previous Pontiffs were greeted with revenge attacks including a bomb in St John Lateran's. Pressure might also be applied to local bishops and priests. The Mafia cherish honour and for the Pope to publicly offend that honour will have touched a raw nerve. The Mafia also like to use the local church as a means of maintaining respectability within a community - the Pope has undermined that, and perhaps he has even sent a message to priests and bishops who out of fear facilitate the mafiosi - it has to stop. The mafiosi are very careful and calculating, so they will weigh up very cautiously how they will respond.

Pope Francis has shown great courage in saying what he said, many bishops and priests would have avoided such a naked denunciation on the grounds of prudence, but Francis knows that as universal pastor he has to speak out against this evil and dainty words don't quite hit the target. He is not the first to do so. St John Paul II was even more forthright in his condemnation of the Mafia. During his visit to Sicily following the murder, now martyrdom, of the Palermo priest Blessed Pino Puglisi, St John Paul went out with all guns blazing. See the video below for part of his condemnation. Notice Archbishop Marini, the Papal MC, he looks like he's having a stroke with anxiety as the Pope rails against the Mafia. Papal officials were terrified during and following St John Paul's condemnation, they were convinced they would be slaughtered before they left Sicily.

In a similar vein Pope Benedict launched a stinging attack on South American drug dealers during his visit to Brazil in 2007. People were stunned that quiet, mild Benedict should attack such powerful and vindictive forces in their own backyard. Again as the defender of the flock Benedict had to speak up.

These are three examples of Papal heroism in the face of great evil at work in the world. The shepherds defending the flock of Christ from the wolves. As the flock we must pray for these heroic shepherds, so we must keep Pope Francis in our prayers that the Lord may protect him, and then watch over all those who live under the shadow of the Mafia and similar evil organisations. I would urge you to invoke our new martyr, Blessed Pino Puglisi, a faithful priest who was martyred by the Mafia. They tried to silence him, to stop his work, but instead their killing him led him to a crown of glory and have given the Church a powerful intercessor. So let us commend the Holy Father into Blessed Pino's care. See my pieces on Blessed Pino here and here.

Blessed Pino, protect our Holy Father,
pray for the flock of Christ

The Voice's Birthday

Today the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Birth of St John the Baptist. John's extraordinary example is that of being prophetic, being humble and being faithful. He was first and foremost the servant of the Christ - the friend of the Bridegroom. Working among the people, John sought to prepare hearts and souls for Jesus's coming, he wanted nothing for himself. He was prophetic not just in what he said, but in the way he lived his life and in the way he died. He could not assent to what was wrong in the eyes of God and so laid down his life. 

As followers of Jesus, as disciples, St John the Baptist offers us an example for our lives and work on earth. He are to prepare the way for the Lord in the hearts of the men and women of our time, we too are to be voices in the wilderness. Our lives must reflect the message we proclaim, indeed our first attempt at preaching that message must be our living of it. And we too must stay faithful to what the Lord teaches us, and a lot of that is very unpopular among many, including many professed followers of Christ. 

May St John the Baptist pray for all of us and help us to be faithful followers of Jesus. Happy feast day.

Monday, June 23, 2014


Good things come in threes, so here's the third post on sport today. With Wimbledon starting today we might ask who is the patron saint of tennis? Well, as far as I can see, there is none. Some have suggested that St Sebastian, who is the patron saint of athletes, can be invoked. 

We will have to wait for a tennis player to reach the heights of sanctity to be rewarded the patronage, so there's encouragement for our present crop of players.

Another Sports Saint?

Following my last post on a sports theme, here is another of interest. There seems to be effort in the US to have a baseballer player declared a Saint. A Catholic filmmaker Richard Rossi feels a Cause should be started and he is gathering information for Church authorities.  Roberto Clemente, a baseball player who died in 1972 in an aviation accident, is said to have lived a holy life while being one of the US's great sportsmen. 

In the Church if a person or group of people are convinced of the holiness of an individual, they are free to try and work towards the opening of a Cause. They need the support of the local bishop who will examine the evidence to see if a Cause is possible. So Rossi is doing the right thing in compiling his evidence. 

In the article above I note a little misunderstanding. It was noted that "the chances of the Church canonizing a layperson are not great". That is unwarranted and misleading. Being a layperson does not exclude anyone from glorification in the Church. Causes for laypeople can be more difficult because they may not have a religious order behind them, but the the chances of the Church canonising a layperson are as good as any other member of the Church. 

Indeed sometimes it can be harder to get a Cause open for a priest or religious because even if people are convinced of the holiness of a person and the person's life confirms that belief, and even if miracles are being worked, if the bishop or superiors of the priest's/religious's diocese or congregation refuse to consider a Cause, there is little that can be done until the obstruction is removed. But then that might need to become another miracle for the candidate to work.

Football Fever, Football Saint

The World Cup is edging towards its second stage and I know a lot of people here who are walking around like zombies thanks to late night matches. Last night I was up myself until well after 1am watching the USA Portugal game which ended in a draw, sadly for the US. With Wimbledon starting today I had better bury the TV in the garden, it's all too much of a temptation.

That said, sport has its place in the lives of Christians and we have had Saints who were mad on sport. Today I thought I'd mention that football (soccer for those in the US), has its own patron Saint - the Oratorian St Luigi Scrosoppi.

St Luigi was born in 1804 in Udine in the north of Italy. A devout child he entered the seminary at age of twelve and was ordained in 1827 - his two brothers were also ordained in the same ceremony. His first years of priesthood were spent trying to assist the poor in his local region. Wars and famine had reduced many people to destitution and many orphaned children were abandoned and left to wander starving and unprotected. He sought to help these children, particularly the girls who were most vulnerable, and he organised some local women to form a group to help and educate them. Nine of these women sought to dedicate their lives in a more radical way to this apostolate, and so in 1837 Luigi formed them into a community and so the Congregation of the Sisters of Providence was born.

Luigi himself was reflecting on his own vocation, and he discerned a call within the call. He was attracted by the life and example of St Philip Neri, and over time he understood that God was calling him to become an Oratorian. At the age of 42 in 1846. Living the life of an Oratorian he continued his life of service to the poor and directed and guided his foundation. He told the sisters that he would found twelve houses of the Sisters before he died, and he did. 

However the Unification of Italy would lead to many trials and difficulties for Luigi and his congregations. The anti-clericalism which accompanied this process led to a decree from the civil authorities suppressing the Oratorian Congregation and other religious organisations. The Fathers were forced out of their community and their works of charity abolished and dismantled. This did not stop the priests from continuing their ministry, and among them Luigi was determined to assist his poor and protect his sisters while observing the full life of an Oratorian priest despite being forced into "exile" from community. 

The abolition of the religious institutes led to greater poverty as the poor "liberated" from the Church found little or no assistance from the secular authorities, as is often the case in anti-religious revolutions. Luigi had not only to defend his Sisters and their works but also deal with growing numbers of poor people. This struggle would occupy him for the rest of his life, but it was a mission which was accompanied by growing ill health but also growing sanctity. By the end of 1883 he was unable to continue his work. Knowing death was near he prophesied to his Sisters that troubles were coming for them, but they had to stay faithful - to be charitable and they would overcome them. St Luigi died on the 3rd April 1884 worn out from his labours.

St Luigi was declared Patron Saint of Footballers in 2001. One incident in his life seems to have promoted him to this patronage. It is said to keep orphans from getting into trouble he encouraged them to play ball. However the neighbours were not pleased with the noise and shouting of the boys at play and so came to complain to the Saint. Dismissing their complaints St Luigi said it would be worse if the boys were out getting into trouble, and then abandoning the complaining neighbours he ran out into the yard and joined the boys in the game of football.

St Luigi is also a patron for those who suffer from AIDS. The miracle for his canonisation was the miraculous healing of a young man with the condition.

Friday, June 20, 2014

A Spiritual Legacy

Mass Rock in Clara, County Offaly

Today is the feast of the Blessed Irish Martyrs. I usually write a post on them because their witness is so important to us in these times. Our diocese has one Blessed among them, Blessed Margaret Bermingham Ball.  These Irish men and women, most of them living in Ireland, but a few living in England, preferred to accept death rather than renounce their Catholic faith. They represent many thousands of Irish who put their religion before king, state and society, and who went out into the wild places to meet for Holy Mass, protected priests and passed on the faith to their children even as the state was doing its best to indoctrinate them.

These forefathers and foremothers leave us an important spiritual legacy. It is one of fidelity, endurance, heroism and authentic devotion. All of these are symbolised by physical reminders of our penal past - the Mass Rocks which are scattered throughout the island. One of the most impressive (in my view) is in my home parish, just a mile or so from where my family lives. This Mass Rock (pictured above) is hidden away in the hills of Kilnabin and no doubt holds may secrets as it witnessed, for many years, our ancestors gathered for Mass at the risk of their lives.

This Mass Rock seems rooted in the Irish soil and in Irish hearts, and it consoles me that yet even today the faith is still rooted in the hearts of many Irish men and women. We may well face again what our ancestors once faced, we may not be as numerous, but the legacy of our martyrs and our faithful ancestors, whose names are no longer remembered, can serve as an encouragement for us. At the end of the day we can lose everything the world thinks important - our livelihood, our buildings, our reputations, even our freedom, but we will still share in the treasure of the Church and it can enrich us - faith. Our martyrs teach us how important that inheritance is.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Bonkers And Bonkers

I believe the Church, as well as being a communio, is a family, one established on blood kinship, not our blood - that which we inherit from ancestors, but a family established in the Blood of Christ and the waters of baptism. Because this is my view, I would see that the members of the Church must form a deep relationship with each other. As members of a family we should love each other, and as members of a family we should also be able to talk about things in a way that is familial. I often sense that many members of the Church who can only speak about the Church in an negative and angry tone, and are often dismissive, probably fail to see the bond of kinship that should exist between us.

Anyway, why this? Well it seems the former President of our Republic, Mary McAleese has launched another attack on the Church, this time the Synod of Bishops on the Family. Given her views in the past, it is not surprising to learn that she is rather dismissive of the Synod as it is being planned, and said that is "completely bonkers" that "celibate men" will be discussing the various issues. She feels that women should have a vital part to play in the process. Fair enough I suppose, there is a case to be made. But then I sense it would depend on the women: would orthodox, prayerful women who respect, live and defend the Church's teachings, in particular the moral teachings, be acceptable to her?

However, given the tone of McAleese's statements and taking her approach, and following her lead I would have to wonder, as a celibate priest, why she takes it upon herself to talk about priesthood and celibacy (which she has many times in the past)?  If bishops are not qualified to talk about family life (remember they are members of families themselves) then she as a married woman is not qualified to talk about celibacy. 

Sometimes as a priest you get  little cheesed off having to listen to people lecturing to you about celibacy and how we priests should be allowed to marry. When you disagree with them they attack you - as if you know nothing about the subject and they are the experts, when in reality the opposite is the case. Let us be clear: when a man is studying for the priesthood he knows that if he goes the whole way he will be required to live a life of celibacy, it is not sprung upon him at the last minute when it's all too late.  He begins this life the second he enters seminary. His seven years of training are to include living the celibate life to help him discern if this is for him: can he live a celibate life? I know some guys thought they could continue to have girlfriends and needed only to give them up when ordained deacons, but these guys had problems later on. Celibacy is not easy, but it is harder when a priest does not foster an intimate relationship with God and healthy relationships with good people. I stress good people because a priest needs honest, moral and sensible friends who will form not only a support group around him, but a spiritual family.

I think Pope Benedict teaches us this in his life. When Francis became Pope he eschewed the Papal Apartments and took up residence in an institution, the Domus. To be honest, I did not think that was a good idea for a number of reasons and I continue to believe that as I hear of problems which have emerged for the usual residents of the Domus Sancta Martha and the Roman locals living around it. Benedict, however, moved in humbly to the accommodation which was provided (and it is not lavish - the Papal Apartments are pretty spartan), but there he gathered a spiritual family around him. We heard the term "Papal family" used during his pontificate and some may have scratched their heads and wondered what this was all about. Benedict's made a spiritual family of his friends and staff, they took care of him and supported him, as he served them in his papal and fatherly ministry. That, I think, should be the model for secular priests. Such a model is possible when we remember the bonds that unite us. 

As a priest I have my family, but also many acquaintances, friends, and then close friends (men and women) who form my "spiritual family". With my own family this spiritual family supports me, prays for me and keeps an eye out for me. It is in this context that I live my celibacy, and with a life of prayer and work, and many interests, celibacy is not a burden but allows me the freedom to carry out the ministry I was called to. Some might say I can only speak for myself - true, but many thousands upon thousands of priests from the Apostles down to the newly ordained today can testify in the same way. Some will say I am bonkers, well if so I hope to be a fool for Christ's sake as another (happy) celibate once said - St Paul.

And let us not forget the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Living priesthood is living a vocation which has been made a sacrament and in this God gives his grace to help the priest live a faithful life - including celibacy. Prayer is vital here, for in prayer the priest's soul is opened to receive the grace of the sacrament and he is strengthened by the very gift of life from Christ the High Priest. Now when I mean prayer I mean authentic, heart to heart prayer, alone with the Lord in adoration and solitude. The first priority for a priest must be the time he sets aside to be alone with God. When a priest abandons prayer even for the noble excuse of ministry, he is opening the door for problems ahead and may well be closing the door to grace. A dry well gives no water. 

All that said, thanks to the members of my spiritual family, my close friends who have always been there for me. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Tuam Update

I cannot leave the issue of the Tuam story without linking to a marvellous piece by Caroline Farrow over on her blog. It provides an excellent summary of the issue and responds to the many accusations which have since been proved false. I note RTE journalist Philip Boucher-Hayes comes in for some criticism, correctly in my opinion. 

As one commentator said recently: journalists are becoming less and less accountable. Indeed one person said to me in the last couple of days that journalists today are good at creating hysteria but not so hot on facts. While I am no fan of censorship, having observed numerous cases of media hysteria and shoddy journalism in recent years, some of it malign, I am inclined to think that certain measures may need to be considered when it comes to the media.

The Archbishop Responds

As you may know Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco has been under pressure from pro-same sex marriage groups and their supporters not to attend a pro-marriage rally. Among them is Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Minority Leader in the US House of Representatives, a Catholic well known for public support and activism in favour of abortion and other issues which are contrary to Christian teaching. Pelosi rebukes the Archbishop for his decision to go to the rally. In essence the Archbishop is being bullied, a modus operandi which is commonplace among militant advocates for gay rights.

Well the archbishop has responded with a well written letter (link here) in which he openly states a number of facts Pelosi and her colleagues like to ignore, among them the very bullying pro-marriage people and organisations have had to endure these past few years. 

The Archbishop is no stranger to attack. Friends in San Francisco tell me that he is constantly under pressure from civil authorities, organisations and individuals both within and outside the Church, who try to force him to abandon Christian teaching on life and sexuality. There is a great deal of opposition to his governance of the Archdiocese even among the clergy, some of whom would identify more with the Church enemies than her friends. While he is aptly called Cordileone - lion heart, he needs our prayers, as do all faithful bishops who struggle and often suffer to proclaim the Gospel and guide the flock along the right road.

That said, I wonder when the Church is going to deal with prominent Catholics who have spent their lives publicly defying Catholic teaching, bullying faithful bishops, priests and people and faithful organisations, and yet proclaim they are Catholics in good standing and march up to receive the Eucharist every chance they get. Whether some in authority in the Church would like to admit it or not there is now a serious case of scandal, quite apart from desecration, which needs to be addressed. So far few in authority have dealt with it. Charity and unity are often cited, but I sometimes wonder is it more a case of cowardice and convenience?

Monday, June 16, 2014

John Allen's Advice To The Pope Regarding Pius

I sent a tweet on this yesterday, but for those of you who do not follow me on Twitter, I thought I'd bring this to your attention. John Allen, now of the Boston Globe, has an interesting view on the Pope Pius XII controversy: go ahead and canonise him and that will sort it out. Citing two other Saints whose Causes created tensions with the Jews, St Maximilian Kolbe and our own St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Allen says that the tensions and controversy died down after the two were canonised, and he is correct there. 

He also states, correctly in my view, that opening all the archives for all to see will not end the controversy. The source of this controversy is not Pius's wartime decisions and actions (nor even his perceived non-actions) but rather it is an ideological attack, not on Pius per se, but on the Church and her adherence to orthodox Christian and moral teachings of which Pius has become the symbol. For example in his book The Myth of Hitler's Pope, Rabbi David Dalin, defending Pius counselled his fellow Jews not to get involved in the controversy because it was not about the Pope's wartime record, but rather liberal Catholics ongoing revolt against Catholic teaching.

The Holy Father has said in a recent interview that he is opening the archives to let people see what Pius actually did.  That process is already underway - Pope Benedict initiated it and it is due to be complete in the next year or so. In the interview Francis also revealed his affection for Pius. 

I think I agree with John Allen, at this stage most of the evidence is out there, the critics have chosen to ignore it and just keeping banging on their tin drums, so the Cause must proceed. As I indicated in a previous post, I do not think it is a good idea to dispense with the need for a miracle, but when one is accepted it is up to the Holy Father to decide to beatify or take the unusual step, which falls within his prerogative, and proceed straight to canonisation.

By the way, my Twitter account is @jshocds, so you're welcome to follow me.

Explaining God

Preaching on the mystery of the Holy Trinity, as per yesterday's solemnity, can be pretty difficult. Many of us resort to St Patrick's supposed use of the shamrock to explain it, however that itself has its hazards, as you will see in the video below. Thought you might enjoy this.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

International Eucharistic Congress 2016

As you know the next Eucharistic Congress is due to take place in Cebu in The Philippines in 2016 - Dublin hosted the last one in 2012. A reader, Nino, passed on this video, the theme song for the Congress, so I'm bringing it to your attention. I have no doubt that the next Congress will be a real festival of faith, so it would be well worth saving the pennies and cents to try and get over.  I would love to go, but work and finances will decide. Thanks Nino for the link.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

That Story: Two Good Articles

I think I will finish up writing posts on the Tuam Story, it is becoming clearer that this is one the media have cooked up from a genuine piece of research which studied poverty and care institutions in the past. It is not about the Catholic Church, it is about Ireland and the way she treated her most vulnerable citizens.  As someone said to me the Tuam story and the broader issues it raises are more about what Ireland did to the Catholic Church rather than what the Catholic Church did to Ireland. There's something in that.

Anyway, I want to bring two excellent articles to your attention, both from non-Catholic sources: Forbes and Spiked.  The Forbes piece puts the spotlight on the media and notes, quite accurately I think, that "the global media are becoming less and less accountable". It seems checking facts and context are becoming less and less of a priority in the newsrooms of the world.

The article on Spiked is from its editor, Brendan O'Neill, an Irishman who regards himself as an atheist, and one in the honourable sense of that term. He is open, fair and critical, but in what I have read of his stuff he is never dismissive. His piece on Tuam is worth reading and making others aware of it.

So Much For "Choice"

There is a disturbing article on LifeNews detailing how a teenager was forced to have an abortion against her will by a judge in the UK. The judge ruled she was mentally incapable of deciding for herself and so he considered it appropriate that he should supply the consent to allow the abortion go ahead. I have yet to hear the howls of indignation from the pro-choice brigade, but all I hear is crickets, as is usual in such cases.

I am reading Janet Morana's book Recall Abortion at the moment. Morana is co-founder of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign, and organisation that works with women who have had abortions and are now suffering psychologically, emotionally and physically. Morana and her colleagues give these women space and a way to tell their story, one which pro-choice organisations and advocates deny them. The book is very good and is a must read for those in the pro-life movement. When an abortion takes place two lives are destroyed - the baby is killed, and the mother (for she is a mother now) suffers the repercussions. There are some excellent organisations out there to help women hurt by abortion and we must promote and support them.

In the book Morana allows these women to speak for themselves and one of the things which strikes you is that despite all the talk, there is little or no choice involved for many of these women. In one testimony a young woman describes how she changed her mind just before the procedure, but instead of respecting her "choice" the staff held her down and the baby was aborted. One common complaint made by these women was the almost total absence of pre-abortion counselling. I think by law in the US abortion clinics are required to provide some form of counselling before the procedure. But it is just another legal requirement put aside by abortion providers. 

What is obvious from all the testimonies is that the clinics are only interested in money. The reason why abortion continues to be a scourge is because it is making people very wealthy, and these wealthy people have tremendous influence and they use that influence to ensure politicians and the media do their bidding. Indeed many pro-abortion organisations are very fond of bankrolling certain politicians's campaigns to ensure they have minions in the legislatures of the world to protect their interests. Hitler killed out of insane hatred, abortionists and company do it for the money, to enrich themselves and in the process they destroy countless lives. If they do not convert and repent, there must surely be a very hot place waiting for these entrepreneurs. 

Anyway, here are some links for you. The Silent No More Awareness Campaign. Rachel's Vineyard, for women who need help following an abortion: the US site, and the Irish site.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Are We On The Brink Of Persecution Again?

In a landmark development Denmark's parliament has voted through a law which will make it mandatory for the Danish church (Lutheran) to conduct same sex marriages (see the Daily Telegraph for details). While individual ministers can refuse on grounds of conscience, the bishops/ do not have the same luxury and will have to appoint a replacement priest or minister to carry out the ceremony. While this refers only to the Lutheran church at the moment, one wonders if individual Danes will seek to have the legislation extended to all churches.  That said this may be the beginning, should we expect other parliaments in other countries to follow suit, particularly in the EU where "consensus" demands all constituent countries fall into line on liberal issues? 

Fr Ray Blake in his blog wonders if the Church in Denmark will be able to hold out, should this happen - it is a valid question. Given the militancy we have seen around the issue of same sex marriage we can be sure there will be incredible pressure applied to the Church in Denmark now that this victory has been given to them and the historical realist in me leads me to expect that that pressure may well turn violent, as it often has in the past. Are we about to see the expected persecution begin, first in Denmark and then throughout Europe?

Time to pray and to reflect on previous persecutions. And let us pray especially for our bishops - they of all people have to remain firm. We can expect individual priests to flout Christian teaching, but our bishops must not.  The statue of St John Fisher on my desk reminds me that at times bishops can be the weakest of men when courage is needed to defy king, president, government and parliament.

Of course in this matter the Danish parliament is overstepping its competence. It has no right to decide what churches do when it comes to marriages, to do so, as it has done, is an act of interference in the belief system of the various religions in Denmark. In terms of Catholicism, if the Danish parliament should seek to extend the legislation, the Danes would be dictating to us how our sacramental system must work. Surely this would be a breach of the separation of Church and State? 

Also, in demanding that churches abandon Christian teaching on marriage, the parliament is ultimately dictating to God, whose teaching we follow, how he must view marriage. The Danish parliament has no right to tell God that he has to obey an act of the legislature, that is why this law is not only unjust it is also arrogant and the height of lunacy. And if we note the lessons in Scripture we see that such presumption usually ends in disaster not for God or for his faithful, but for the ones who tried to force him to adopt their way of thinking and their way of living.

That said, true compassion, which we as disciples of Christ must adhere to, is rooted in truth - in the truth of God's law, in the truth of who we are as human beings, in the truth of what leads to salvation and what hinders it.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Tuam Story Continued

A brief post to bring this article to your attention. Tim Stanley is a columnist with the Daily Telegraph in London. A historian and convert to Catholicism he has interesting things to say on Catholic issues among others. He has written an thought-provoking article on the Tuam story and it is well worth reading.

Earlier today the Minister for Education and Skills here in Ireland was speaking about the Tuam case. In an effort to set the record straight he said that the cause of the problem was conservative Ireland. While I acknowledge the Minister may well be trying to point out that blaming the Church is too simple and may not reflect completely the reality of what happened, I would have to disagree with him, not because conservatives in Ireland are not capable of the discrimination we saw in relation to unmarried pregnant women, but the reality that liberals discriminate too, they are just as bad as conservatives. Conservatives may have sent pregnant girls into homes, but the liberals want to send them to abortion clinics - either way it is inhuman treatment of unborn children and women and the refusal to do the right thing. Neither captivity, forced adoption nor the killing of an innocent baby are good responses: they are gravely sinful.

The problem was in fact "respectable Ireland" - those who considered their status, their impeccability, their honour, more important than Christian values. To protect their respectability they condemned their "erring" daughters and their offspring to the outer darkness lest they contaminate the pristine reputation of the family. Indeed in some cases in putting out the "fallen" daughter there may well have been an attempt to cover over darker things like abuse in the family which was, and still is, widespread in Irish society. These "outcasts" were dumped on the doorstep of the Church ("let the nuns look after them") and society built a wall of silence around them. The Church in Ireland's biggest mistake was to cooperate with the Irish State and her citizens in this, and in the process she betrayed her commitment to Christ, the Gospel and charity. And now that the skeletons are out of the closet, respectable Ireland is turning on the Church. 

A timely lesson indeed. Let's hope in future that the Church when she sups with the State will use a very long spoon and put the Gospel first even if it offends those pewsitters who are more concerned about their honour than anything Christ may have to say. 

The Whit Monday Myth

If you do not have a sense of humour when it comes to the liturgy, do not follow this link.  Blogger Catholicus offers a new development in the story of the Venerable Paul VI's morning Mass on the 18th May 1970

Did it happen? I don't know. But if Catholicus is right, the red vestments were laid out, not for the Octave of Pentecost, but for the feast of Pope St John I, Martyr.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Septic Tank Story: Developments And Qualifications

There have been developments with regard to the Tuam story where it was alleged that up to 800 children and babies were buried in a septic tank in a home run by Catholic nuns. As you know the Church has been hammered for the last couple days as people respond to the revelations.

The first development is that the alleged burial site has been surveyed by radar at the behest of a national newspaper a couple of days ago - not the government note, but a newspaper. The results of this radar will be available in a few days, no doubt posted across the front age of the commissioning paper.

Secondly, in this morning's Irish Times there is an interesting story in which the local historian Catherine Corless who had broken the story through her research is qualifying what she said initially.  It seems she never said that 800 children were buried in a septic tank. She discovered in public records, available to all, so not hidden away in secret Church archives, that 796 children died in the home between 1925 and 1961, the thirty-six years the home was in the care of the Bon Secours sisters. In these public records the causes of death were noted: the children were not bludgeoned to death, or starved by the nuns, but died of those diseases that were causing havoc and innumerable fatalities all over Ireland during that period: TB, convulsions, measles, whooping cough, influenza, bronchitis and meningitis among others. So the Church was not responsible for those deaths, and regardless of how much care these children would have got, at that time these diseases usually proved fatal.

Just by means of an example, in that particular period of time my father's aunt, her husband and all their children bar one (about five or six children) all died of TB in a short space of time - the family was wiped out, as were many others. They were buried in the local cemetery in an unmarked grave - our family could not afford to erect a tombstone over the grave, they barely had enough to feed and clothe themselves. The surviving child, a boy, was raised in the family and eventually had to emigrate to England to find work - economically, things were bad in Ireland. Let it be noted the local Church shared in that poverty, priests and religious did the best they could for poor and ill families, but they had few resources. In our parish we had the Sisters of Mercy, and while there were some tough ladies in the community, they spent their lives trying to make life a little better for the people of our local community providing free education to the girls who had no other opportunity to advance themselves and when they had it, providing food and health care.

In the same article the two men who are said to have see hundreds of bodies crammed into the septic tank are now claiming that they never said that. They saw some bones, maybe abut twenty skeletons. Now if memory serves me right I thought I heard these guys say in a television interview that they saw bones right up to the top of the tank, and skulls piled one on top of another. I'll have to look that one up again. But now the story is not as sensational as reported.

Anyway, the story is taking an interesting turn, and I wonder given the developments will it now crawl to the back pages and then just disappear? The radar will turn up results and I wonder if the qualifications now being reported are related to that? I don't know, we shall see. However, whatever happens now the damage has been done, true or untrue, simple or complex, and I suppose that is enough for some people.  And it won't stop some running with the story. When it comes to the media Mark Twain's comment is worth keeping in mind: "never let the truth get the way of a good story": that is particularly true when it comes to the secular media reporting on the Catholic Church.

That said, I still say investigate and excavate.

Caroline Farrow has a good piece on the latest developments. She reiterates what Catherine Corless believed regarding the bodies: they were those of famine victims unearthed during digging works and put into a hollowed out tank. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Tuam Story

As you all know the media in Ireland and elsewhere is ablaze once again with the story of a Mother and Baby home in Tuam. According to reports, up to 800 babies are buried in a septic tank in a mass grave on the former site both of the home and an earlier Workhouse.  The story is not new, such allegations have been the subject of media reports on and off for the last ten years or more.

Now I do not know if these reports are true or not. What I do know is that figures and allegations are being reported, but I notice, while people are being stirred up, the media is being careful in the language it uses. And of course it has to because at the moment, despite what many are now saying, there is no physical evidence that these allegations are true. So far we just have the thesis of a historian and the memory of two men who claim they saw bones when they were twelve.

I am not denying that the allegations could be true, nor do I know if they are false or confused. But given that the topic is so serious a proper investigation must take place, and an important part of that investigation must be a thorough excavation of the alleged burial site. This for two reasons: first of all to establish that there are bodies there and to see if they are crammed into a septic tank as alleged. If there are bodies it must be established who they are: the site was used both by the home and a Workhouse - if bodies are there they could have come from either institution. The second reason why an excavation must take place is to provide the remains, if there, with a respectful burial in consecrated ground.

A simple investigation or tribunal is not enough. We cannot have a situation where the site remains untouched, now that the allegations have been made justice demands that the site be examined. Any refusal to do so should be viewed with suspicion.

On a couple of issues being reported in the media.  First that the babies were denied baptism: that is a outright lie, pure fabrication and malicious in nature. For all the faults of Catholics, when a baby was born one of the first things they did was baptize. Secondly, that those adopted from these homes are being frustrated in their search for their natural parents by the nuns who ran the homes. In reality it is not the nuns, oftentimes it is the State and at times birth mothers themselves who have created various fictions to prevent adoptees finding their origins. At the moment an adopted person cannot get a copy of their original birth certificate without the explicit permission of the birth mother. The law, seeking to protect the identity of the birth mother, has put in place various barriers to prevent a child getting information without the woman's consent. That is not right.

As regards the situation with Mother and Baby Homes in Ireland. They were not nice places. Most, if not all, were run by religious institutes be they Catholic or Protestant. They were required because the "good Christian people" of Ireland felt they had to put their pregnant daughters away lest the family lose respectability in the community. In Ireland then, and still today, respectability far outweighs Christian values. The very existence of these homes lead me to wonder if the Irish ever really got the Gospel - events in the last number of years of Ireland lead me to continue asking that question. Many seemed to have been deaf to the Gospel and Church teaching. As a Catholic who has lived in Ireland all my life, I see such scandals as revealing a darker side not of Catholicism, but of the Irish, and we as a people have yet to face up to that dark side. To be honest, I cannot see that happening: as a people we may have abandoned Christianity, but as secularists our flaws remain, and may well worsen.

In the homes themselves we find women and girls dumped by their families and the Irish State, put into the care ("custody") of nuns and others who had little resources and often few skills to provide for the needs of many of these unfortunates. The State was not committed to providing real assistance, offering miserly stipends to the homes, measly amounts that put the orders and homes under pressure. One nun I know who worked in an orphanage spoke of social workers arriving unannounced with a child or a family of children in tow and dropping them off to be looked after. The nuns were left to care for these children, often for years, with little or no support from the State, while the social workers skipped off to save the day in another poverty-stricken Irish family home.

Does that sound harsh? Well, as the filth is flying, being thrown in one direction, I think the respectable and offended Irish need to have a good examination of conscience and see that they might well deserve to be in the firing line too.