24 March 2007

Between a Rock and a hard place

The American Minister in Ireland in 1942 is famously reported (perhaps apocryphally) as having interrupted a harangue by President De Valera on the rights of small nations: "Mr President, the only right we have is to die for our faith; anything else we have to fight for."

It would be nice to think that the Catholic Hierarchy in England and Wales was musing in a similar vein this morning. The SORS regulations have imposed the values of the Enlightenment definitively on our country: over the forty years since the 1967 Abortion Act, legislation has undermined any sense that there can be two conflicting rights, if one of those rights has to do with how an individual behaves sexually, because the individual's sexual rights take absolute priority over all other rights.

The secular agenda has won: there are a few mopping up actions to be completed, such as removing the right to charitable status of the contemplative orders, on the grounds that they don't do anything for society (for what good is prayer?) and no doubt an attack on the right of Faith schools to teach a single religious point of view.

We don't know what advice the Hierarchy has received about how to fight back. The Catholic Union says that "its purpose is to promote Christian standpoint in public affairs, through the intervention of its members who belong to the two Houses of Parliament, and through the formation of expert opinions which are presented to Government as Submissions"; well, it has failed. The Bishops' intervention on adoption was disastrous: however good the intention, however subtle the line the Church was trying to tread, they have been sidelined very effectively and portrayed (however unjustifiably) as hypocritical.

The Hierarchy seems to have rejected the "hard place" of encouraging vocal opposition to the Government's plans. Wednesday's demonstrations were organised by Evangelical christians, and were not publicised or encouraged by the Catholic Church, while the Cathedral played host to Jeffrey Archer. This contrasts with 1944: the Hierarchy organised demonstrations against the Education Bill which killed off the Bill's initial opposition to Faith Schools.

The alternative to the hard place is usually portrayed as the rock: we are fortunate in that we have a Rock to which we can cling: Rome; Peter. Now is the time to stop trying to accomodate our beliefs and practices to the secular country in which we live, and, once again, to become, proudly, Roman Catholics. If we have to retreat into a ghetto for a few years, fine: what has forty years of engagement brought us?


greatgable said...

I couldn't agree more with your sentiments. 40 years of engagement with a secular society have brought nothing but pain to the church.

I was talking to a priest a few weeks ago who thought we weren't engaging enough with our society - what planet was he living on was a thought that crossed my mind!

fr paul harrison

Moretben said...


It's one of those things people say because they think they're supposed to - a substitute for thinking. Another one (of which I suspect we hear a bit less today)is "well, we have much to learn from XYZ". Twenty years ago I admitted to my parish priest that I had been sloping off to the local Greek Orthodox Church in preference to fulfilling my Sunday obligation. He was quite unconcerned. "Well, we have much to learn from the Orthodox". Yes, indeed - and what we "had to learn" was, precisely, everything His Reverence had dedicated his ministry to extinguishing utterly.