Monday, 20 May 2013
Yes, I know it's a cheap shot
George Galloway is not one of my favourite people. He strikes me as representative of that well known type of apparently strong, charismatic leader in left wing politics that talks a good game, but ends by screwing up other people's lives. (That of course is if they ever get any power. If not, they just do a lot of screwing: he's apparently on the fourth Mrs G just now.)
Anyway, Galloway has been warning that Catholics should be careful about voting for independence:
Speaking to the Sunday Herald, Galloway warned Scotland's Catholics to be "careful what they wish for" in the 2014 independence referendum, and claimed that as a Roman Catholic he would have concerns about living in a post- independence, SNP-led Scotland.
The Respect MP for Bradford West said "there's an historic crossover between Scottish nationalism and anti-Irish-Roman Catholicism" and warned Catholic schools would be threatened by independence.
Galloway said: "My own experience of growing up as a Roman Catholic in Scotland has led me to fear independence in Scotland.
"The possibility of Scotland being a kind of Stormont [the Ulster parliament] is a real one. I wrote a book recently about Neil Lennon's year of living dangerously and in the course of it I had to revisit some of my own experiences.
"Of course, most Scottish people are not swivel-eyed, loyalist sectarians but there are a large number of them. A large six-figure number, and if I were living in Scotland as a Roman Catholic I would be worried about that.
"I really urge Scotland's Catholics to be careful what they wish for, because the SNP has, in its roots, a Tory, anti-Catholic mentality. William Wolfe, former leader – before Alex Salmond's time but still within my lifetime – called for the Pope to be banned from visiting the country."
(Full article here.)
It's quite true that William Wolfe did have some 'odd' views. For example:
He went on to describe the Roman Catholic church as the world’s “largest and most widespread political organisation” which had “centuries of experience, infinite patience and Machiavellian skill, using good or evil, wealth or poverty, left or right political parties, black men or white men, in fact any person, organisation or circumstance which is likely to serve the ultimate aim of the church”.
David Torrance covers the events here . But that sort of nationalist Protestant chippiness (familiar to readers of Archbishop Cranmer's blog) has all but disappeared from the modern SNP, in part because of a drive to win Catholic votes from Labour and, more importantly perhaps, because the younger generation of Nationalist politicos is as secularist as any sensible modern youth could be.
If there is a danger to Catholicism in an independent Scotland, it's from that secularizing tendency in a new political class. The National Secular Society and its ilk bombard the letters columns of Scotland's press with demands for the exclusion of religion from this or that sphere, and any replies in the comboxes are met with keyboard warriors rejoicing in the vision of a future Scotland where the last minister is strangled with the last copy of the Sunday Post. Militant secularism is certainly deeply embedded in 'progressive' politics up here and, in the absence of any sort of Burkean conservatism in Scotland, there isn't much of principled opposition to it.
So I agree with George Galloway that, should there be an independent Scotland, as members of the most obviously countercultural church, we'd need to be on our guard against (especially) a challenge to Catholic schools. But as education is already a devolved matter, that possibility exists already.
As it stands, it would be electoral suicide for the SNP or anyone else to aim to attack Catholic schools. I suspect that will change and I suspect the attacks will come at some stage, whether or not Scotland becomes independent. Certainly, the excitement generated by a newly independent nation might provoke a taste for nutty modernizing. (Whilst, if there is no independence, it's hard to imagine the future of Scottish politics other than a generation long sulk while the Tories use the opportunity to get UKIP supporters onside by bludgeoning 'rebellious Scots'.) Certainly, the wish to draw a clear line of separation between an outmoded British state with funny mediaeval habits and a nice new shiny Scotland with none of that sort of thing might again lead to increased attacks on religion in the public sphere.
But then, when you've got a United Kingdom Conservative Party forcing through same sex 'marriage', secularizing tendencies are hardly unknown elsewhere, are they?
My best guess is that an independent Scotland probably would see greater pressure particularly in the area of Catholic schools, but that, in everything else, the UK in substance is going to be as hostile to religion in the public sphere as could be wished. The rump of the UK would still have the form of an Established Church etc, whilst the last vestiges of the Church of Scotland as the National Church here will disappear. But otherwise, those of us who have not got 'with the programme' are going to find life distinctly chilly, whichever side of the border we end up.
Friday, 17 May 2013
Like mushrooms, the laity thrive in the dark....
I've been thinking a great deal recently about this business of gossip. Archbishop Nichols ruminated on it in response to Pope Francis' own thoughts (basically, gossip bad).
Although the Archbishop of Westminster got a lot of flak from Catholic bloggers on this, I think he has a point. It's easy to get into the habit of whingeing about things and it's not really something I set out to do when starting this blog.
So what is the virtuous response to the Cardinal O'Brien kerfuffle? As it stands, Cardinal O'Brien has admitted some sort of series of sexual impropriety, and
will be leaving Scotland for several months for the purpose of spiritual renewal, prayer, and penance.
Now that leaves us (ie laity with no special sources of information) not knowing:
a) Precisely what he has done and, in particular, whether this is simply a case of someone just making some passes at consenting adults, or a long standing pattern of abuse of those (young adults and priests) in his care.
b) Whether he's simply popping off for a couple of months, and then coming back to live openly in Scotland or whether there is some further action to be taken.
Does that matter? At one level, I don't need to know any more in order to be a practising Catholic. I don't expect priests (or bishops) to be perfect and that means that an extreme few are always going home from Mass to be beaten by their Brazilian male maid, whilst listening to CDs of Judy Garland. It would be naive to assume otherwise. So we just nod sadly, utter a few prayers, and go on without taking a gossipy interest in further details.
But into the space of information steps the media. STV had an interview with Stephen McGinty and Catherine Deveney in which the latter -who broke the story- basically said that the information given and action taken were an insufficient response to the allegations of abuse of power over priests and seminarians and there wasn't much sign of further action being taken. (Video available here for 5 days.)
Then we have Tom Gallagher managing to say a couple of sensible sounding things
No doubt naively, when this crisis broke, I had hoped that it might re-energise the church and ultimately lead to a time of renewal. But unless Rome sees the need for a radical departure in choosing O’Brien’s successor in Edinburgh, there are growing signs that a defensive clerical establishment will seek to ride out the crisis with minimum change.
but then going on to somehow blame it all on the SNP and advertise his forthcoming book. (I believe it's called, How Alex Salmond stole Christmas and is responsible for Climate Change.)
Moreover, in the combox of the SSPX-ish Catholic Truth Scotland, much sharing of detail on some of the other 'issues' around the O'Brien affair.
So, here's the question: is my desire to find out a bit more about the events and to achieve some certainty both on what happened and what will happen anything more than a vicious delight in human failure and sexual mishaps, or is it the perfectly reasonable desire of someone who needs to come to a judgment on these issues and wants to be fully informed before doing so?
Frankly, I'm still not sure. But I suspect that it's not unreasonable to want to get a sense of the state of the Church in Scotland. Is it simply just a bit complacent and unimaginative, but otherwise, apart from the occasional transgressor, going about its business in a reasonably competent way? Or is it actually dominated by a range of homosexual cliques, drunks and the feeble minded?
The next Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh in a relaxed pose
How, today, in scandal-scarred Scotland, might it pursue that vocation? By four measures: first, abandon the vanity of the current dioceses which were intended to recover the form of the medieval, pre-Reformation Church, and settle for two or at most four apostolic territories. Secondly, engage directly with the clergy, proposing a clear option: remain in holy orders subject to signing a private but strict renewed solemn vow of celibacy; or failing willingness to do that, be restored to the lay state (the debate about married clergy is not over, but one for another time). Thirdly, appoint two new bishops from the small but large enough body of serious and committed priests who are neither liberal malcontents nor liturgical fetishists; and fourthly, appoint a body of lay advisers, four to six at most, to assist in this radical transformation.
Now, I trust Professor Haldane. I don't think he's always been right in his suggestions but he is orthodox and sensible in a way that some of the other commentators in this area are not. Moreover, unlike those who simply assert their insider knowledge, as a Papal Consultor, he's likely to have a true sense of the reality of the broader Scottish Church. So if he proposes some quite drastic and far reaching action in the Church, my worry is that it's needed, whatever the merits of his precise suggestions.
My interim conclusion? I think it reasonable for a lay Catholic to want to know precisely what's happened in the Cardinal O'Brien case. We don't need salacious details. We do need simple acknowledgments of facts and some sense of the implications for the wider Church. Justice needs to be done publicly both to the Cardinal and his accusers. Stephen McGinty in his STV interview pretty much asserted that he expected nothing more would be done. If that happens, I guess we'll have to live with it. But it'd be a pity and a lost opportunity for the Church.
Tuesday, 14 May 2013
I am by inclination profoundly Islamophilic. There are a number of reasons for this. Most of the Muslims I've met on a personal or professional level have been rather decent human beings. I admire young Muslims' attachment to their religion. I'd like to have had the Arabic to trace back some of the development of Scholasticism to Jews and Muslims writing in the language. The Ottoman Empire strikes me as one of the more interesting historical periods. I am grateful to the Scottish Muslim community for standing firm with Catholics and Evangelical Protestants against same sex 'marriage'. We worship the same God. And so on....
In the West, the great threat to Catholicism is not, at least in the foreseeable future, from Islam, but from secularism/atheism in its drive to extirpate religion. Muslims and Catholics share much, a sharing evidenced in Scotland by the numbers of Muslim parents who send their children to Catholic schools.
So why upset a rather smooth running apple cart with the canonization of 800 Italians martyred by the Ottomans in the fifteenth century? NBC has a simple answer:
Ever since his election, Pope Francis has called for greater dialogue between Christianity and other religions, in particular Islam. And so far, he has acted on that promise. He washed the feet of a young Muslim woman jailed in a juvenile prison on Holy Thursday, and reached out to the many “Muslim brothers and sisters” during his first Good Friday procession.
So why risk creating yet another inter-faith row with a celebration which some in the Muslim world may be seen as a provocation?
The answer is that it wasn’t Pope Francis’ choice in the first place. The decision to canonize the hundreds of Otranto martyrs was rubber-stamped by his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, on Feb. 11 - the same day he announced his resignation.
A rather predictable narrative: nasty German conservative Pope saddles nice liberal Francis with an unwelcome task.
Quite apart from the fact that it's now obvious that Francis, although clearly a very different personality from Benedict, is as committed to Catholic orthodoxy as you'd expect any Pope to be, my take on canonization is relatively simple: if someone is obviously a saint, he should be canonized, regardless of 'political' considerations. The Church deals in facts, not in conveniences, and if the martyrdom of 800 Italians is inconvenient, that's probably not a bad thing anyway. (Similarly with Oscar Romero: it doesn't matter whether he is the poster boy for Tabletistas or not, all that matters is whether or not he is a saint.)
In some ways, of course, the canonization is entirely convenient. Christians in the Middle East and elsewhere are being martyred by Muslims. In Western Europe, even if no one is threatening to decapitate us, Christians need to be reminded that, in the face of secularist pressure, in some circumstances we are called on to sacrifice everything rather than abandon Christ.
Islam and Catholicism are in some ways allies in the West and in some ways rivals. As new generations experience the emptiness of atheism, they will seek religious answers, and Islam will offer those if Catholicism has given up its hunger for saving souls. (I've just downloaded to my Kindle, Kristiane Backer's From MTV to Mecca, which is the autobiography of just such a convert from Western secularism to Islam.) That 800 very ordinary Italians were willing to die rather than convert ought to shame the Laodiceans among us. On the other hand, an obsession with Islam in Western Europe is an obsession with a possible future threat rather than the immediate one of atheism. But in either case, the answer is the same: a reinvigoration of Catholicism. That is the message of Otranto, and it is one we should pay attention to, regardless of whether the threat is more from the Qur'an or from Nuts Magazine.