Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Nuclear weapons and Catholicism

Perhaps describing nuclear weapons as a 'hot button' issue for Catholicism would be a little tasteless. However, given the recent focus on the closure of the Faslane base as a consequence of Scottish independence, it's worth reflecting on the Church's attitude to them.

In Scotland, the Catholics Bishops and particularly Cardinal O'Brien have been clear in their opposition to the UK's possession of nuclear weapons. For example, in this (PDF here) study document produced in 2006 for the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh, Cardinal O'Brien is quoted:

With the Trident nuclear weapon system fast becoming obsolete, and the debate concerning its replacement  promised by our government, now is the time for all men and women of Easter faith, men and women of good will, men and women of peace, to raise our voices. Enter this debate and demand that these weapons of mass destruction be replaced, but not with more weapons. Rather, replace Trident, as the Holy Father has said, with projects that bring life to the poor.

This opposition was reiterated in April 2011 by the Cardinal at Faslane:

Here at the gates of Faslane, there is no better place to say that it is not courageous of Britain to have these dreadful weapons of mass destruction. It is shameful to have them.

Trident is fast becoming obsolete, and we have the chance now to do the right thing and give it up. We have the chance to be peacemakers, echoing the Easter desire of Jesus Christ for a lasting peace.

I've been speaking of the teaching of the Catholic Church on nuclear weapons for many years now, telling our message to whoever is willing to listen, and I'm very pleased to repeat that teaching again today. As you'll see, it's a consistent teaching, a central part of our pro-life stance that has human dignity at its very core.

Moreover, the opposition is not new. In 1982, in an Easter statement by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Scotland, the UK government's policy of nuclear deterrence was clearly condemned as immoral:

According to the statement, if it is immoral to use nuclear weapons, then it is immoral to threaten to use them...Quoting from the Vatican Council, the bishops call the arms race "a theft from the poor" and "one of the greatest curses on the human race".
"Too much energy has been spent on preparations for war, too little on making peace," the statement said. The Church in Scotland is, therefore, in "an anguishing situation".

From the point of view of Scottish Catholicism, the condemnation of Trident has been loud and consistent. This condemnation rests primarily on the sacredness of human life, and on the difficulty in seeing how use of nuclear weapons could ever be regarded as a legitimate defence of life in accordance with the principles of a just war:

The use of force must be a last resort. We have a prior obligation to avoid war if at all possible.

The use of force must be discriminate. Civilians and civilian facilities may not be the object of direct, intentional attack and care must be taken to avoid and minimize indirect harm to civilians.

The use of force must be proportionate. The overall destruction must not outweigh the good to be achieved.

And there must be a probability of success.

As a comparison, although Catholic bishops in the US have not called for immediate and unilateral disarmament, their push towards disarmament has also been consistent:

Both the Holy See and our Bishops’ Conference have spoken about the strategy of nuclear deterrence as an interim measure. As the U.S. bishops wrote in 1983: “Deterrence is not an adequate strategy as a long-term basis for peace; it is a transitional strategy justifiable only in conjunction with resolute determination to pursue arms control and disarmament.

(For a discussion of the Catholic position and its application to the US, see here, from which the above quote is taken.)

The SNP has enough reasons to oppose nuclear weapons anyway with 70% of the Scottish public against the replacement of Trident. (For CND article see here.) But if I were an SNP Machiavel looking for ways to bring Catholics (and particularly the Catholic hierarchy) back on side despite the same sex 'marriage' debacle, I'd start by making vaguely anti-abortion noises and then follow up with a clear reminder of the party's opposition to Trident.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Sticking up for Tina Beattie (a bit)

Tina Beattie's been getting it in the neck again.

As regular readers of Catholic blogs will realize, Professor Beattie has become a bit of focus for orthodox Catholic anger at heterodox teachings in the modern Church. The latest wave has picked up some of her writings about the Mass and attacked her for describing it as an act of homosexual intercourse. (Here from Protect the Pope and here for the Bones' rather amusing take on it. )

Frankly, I'm pulled in two ways on this. I'm with the other orthodox bloggers in thinking it's pretty outrageous that someone who teaches heresy should be able to be described as a Catholic theologian with all the influence that carries. That's less directed at Professor Beattie (who's getting perhaps more than her fair share of the flak) than at the general run of things: there are far too many academics and literati running around with 'Catholic' as a description who seem to spend most of their time lobbing their dissenting opinions at the Church. (Many of them seem to be hanging out here.) One of the facets of the modern world is that many ordinary Catholics are well-educated in secular terms and rightly want to extend their knowledge of theology. To do that, there needs to be some sort of quality control so that they are not misled into thinking that all the smart Catholics are heretics and that any degree of intellectual sophistication is incompatible with orthodoxy. That's really down to the Bishops' exercising of their pastoral authority to lead and guide the faithful. It's not an easy task in a modern world of competing voices all claiming authority, and particularly not an easy one in a country such as the UK where most (Catholic) theologians work in non-Catholic institutions. However, easy or not, much more needs to be done to make it clear that the Church does make absolute claims to truth and there are some theological opinions, however sincerely held, which are false. (That said, such pronouncements need to explain their positions -and that's not always a straightforward thing to do to a laity often eager for novelty and impatient of judgments at odds with the familiar, secular world.)

On the other hand, the specific issue that Protect the Pope has raised is rather trickier than a straightforward teaching of heresy. In essence, it is a common theological approach (largely, I think, in the modern case originating from von Balthasar) to regard theology and sex as mutually informative: we should view sex theologically (so the Theology of the Body) and we should understand God through our embodiment, particularly through sexual differences. On the whole, I think that's rather a good thing. In particular, it restores the sexual differences between men and women to an important place in our thinking about the world: instead of seeing us as just human beings with different bits stuck on, we start to regard men and women as being equal and essentially different: broadly speaking, this is the position of the New Catholic Feminism (see here).

One particular application of this general line of thinking is in the restriction of the priesthood to men. What is just a ridiculous relic of sexism for someone who views men and women as identical becomes a consequence of the meaning of our sexual embodiment for someone who views men and women as essentially different. (Balthasar's reflections on the restriction of the priesthood to men is here. (PDF).) So the exploration of the meanings of maleness and femaleness in the Mass becomes very important theologically.

Now, Professor Beattie does exactly that. When she explores the symbolism of the Mass in this way, she find it wanting and thus uses it as an argument for women priests: in other words, when she talks of the (current) Mass as 'an orgasmic celebration of homosexual love from which the female body is excluded' (from Protect the Pope) that is a critique of how the symbolism is currently working rather than an ideal: by allowing women priests, she thinks to stop the Mass being so describable.

I should confess at this point that it was reading Beattie's God's Mother. Eve's Advocate a few years ago that a) drew my attention to von Balthasar b) eventually helped me understand why the priesthood was restricted to men; and c) made me appreciate the importance of Mary. None of those results (with the exception of c)) would be ones that Beattie would applaud, but such is the nature of academic reflection: reflections on objections and attacks are a necessary stage in the achievement of knowledge.

So here's my quandary. How do you ensure that the laity (and indeed priest and bishops!) are not misled by academics in a world where the sort of control exercisable in the past isn't physically possible, and where it's not clear that any obvious alternatives (such as warnings from Bishops) work terribly well either? On the other hand, how do you allow that genuine fluidity and openness of debate that is an essential part of theology in the academy, without allowing an imperfect (and erroneous) stage in that debate to achieve currency among the enthusiastic but half educated (and I include myself in that category)?

I really don't have much of a one stop solution here. Bishops should be clearer about articulating orthodox positions. Individuals -academics, laity, priests, religious, everyone- should reflect more on their responsibilities not to teach or believe falsehoods and how to respect the Magisterium. Perhaps the ideal is the finding of scholastically minded geniuses: the scholastic method of reviewing alternative positions before articulating and defending the orthodox conclusion allows a review and understanding of the alternatives without compromising final truth.

(As a practical interim measure, I suggest the cloning and distribution of Matthew Levering to every diocese in the UK. He's solidly orthodox but also soaked in the exploration of complex theological meanings in the Mass. (See especially his Sacrifice and Community.))

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Haldane, celibacy and crisis

Spotting a link (H/T Catholic Herald)  to John Haldane's article in the Tablet  which, among other things, called for the admission of married men to the priesthood, prompted me to go out and buy the wretched paper.

The shortened online version (which I've linked to above) perhaps gives a misleading impression of the whole article: the suggestion about celibacy takes up only a couple of paragraphs, the bulk of the article being a reflection on 'A Church in dire need'. On the other hand, those paragraphs form the conclusion to the article, and it's hard not to see them being offered as the single most important solution to the crisis in the Church.

This is not a case of simply increasing the number of clergy, nor is it a easy way to solve the decline in vocations. Rather, a married contingent can better resemble and reassemble the faithful and speak to people of what they know about their needs and difficulties. Married priests could also speak to celibates from within the brotherhood of the ordained. Even if it were only for the sake of providing a compelling argument against this proposal, the matter should be addressed as the Synod of Bishops, currently gathered in Rome, reflects on the challenge of the New Evangelization.

The crisis deepens and still we are waiting. Let it not be said of the synod, 'We hear men speaking for us of new laws strong and sweet, Yet is there no man speaketh as we speak in the street."

The diagnosis of the crisis is that the Church is under two forms of attack: an elite, post Enlightenment attack on Catholicism as the most conspicuous opposition to secular values; and a popular attack on the institution as a result of priestly abuse. Implicit in the article is also a third element in the crisis: a weakness within the Church in part characterized by

...a rise in materialism marked at one level by an implicit adoption of a general consumerist culture, and at another by the politicization of religious thought and behaviour. The latter comes in two forms: 'conservative' and 'progressive', and although each opposes the other, they are united in seeking recognition and influence. The 'conservative' version is nostalgic and slavish; the 'progressive' variant is faithless and craven in its desire for secular acceptance.

Now although the article isn't entirely explicit about this, I take it that it's the second and third elements of the crisis (the popular disgust with the Church, and the weakness within the Church) that removal of compulsory celibacy is supposed particularly to remedy: it's hard to see how such a change would affect an elite attack that has been going on since the 18th century.

My problem with this is that, coming from an Episcopalian background, I've seen married priests in action. I've also seen the admission of candidates to priesthood on a '(shortened) formation' (Non Stipendary Ministers). (Come to that, I've even seen women priests.) Now my conclusion from this experience is that at best, such a change will make very little difference, and, at worst, it might even exacerbate the crisis. Let me concede one point immediately: it's quite likely that, by allowing shortened formation periods for married men, you would increase numbers of priests. And to the extent that there is a problem with numbers of priests -and there clearly is some problem here- you might have a remedy in Haldane's suggestion. However, I'm not convinced that the shortage of priests is, historically, quite as serious as is being made out: there have been periods (think recusancy) when access to the sacraments has been far more difficult than it is now; there are areas where the shortage is far worse than in Western Europe:

(Source: here.)

Certainly, the existing parish structure of the Church will not survive a further reduction in numbers of priests, but it's by no means clear that's a bad thing. The Episcopal Church in Scotland is dogged by the continuation of small parishes of exclusively elderly congregants, made financially viable by the free labour of non-stipendary ministers. I'm not at all clear that such an immunization to the pressures of changed demographics is a good thing: paradoxically, a measure intended as a 'bold initiative' may simply compound resistance to needful change in how a church engages with modern society.

But let's grant that ordination of married men would carry the advantage of increased numbers of priests. What of the other claimed advantages of being better able to 'resemble and reassemble the faithful and speak to people of what they know about their needs and difficulties'? I'm frankly not convinced by this. There are two aspects to this: a) one of the major problems within the Church is a lay complacency -a contentment with (indeed pride in) the conclusions of their own secularized education and inadequate theological understanding. We need priests who are not like us, but who can remind us of our deficiencies, particularly in catechesis. A priesthood which transcends us is at least as important as a priesthood which resembles us. b) To the extent that 'resemblance' is a desideratum, it's easy to overemphasize the difference that celibacy (or marriage) makes. Educational and class background as well as personality are as much issues here as marital status All in all, I have found rather more in common with some celibate priests than I have with some married priests: married priests in my experience lead to an embourgeoisement of the clergy which can be far, far more off putting than celibacy.

This is perhaps missing the main thrust of the article which, I suspect, at least implicitly, is the line that people within and without the Church will trust it more in the area of child abuse if it has married priests. But to state this is immediately to see that it's flawed reasoning. Everyone really knows that married men are just as likely to abuse as pretend celibates. The statistics show it. Commonsense and anecdote show it. At best, by introducing married men, you may get some people to acknowledge the beginnings of a (putatively positive) change in the Church. But no one coming from this line of thought will regard it as sufficient.

The Catholic Church is widely seen by non-Catholics as having a hang up about sex, and simply bringing in married priests won't cure that. When acquaintances tell me that I'm a member of the world's largest paedophile ring (and they do quite regularly), they know I am married and have children. I don't think they (usually) consider that I am actually abusing my own children, but they do think that I am part of a system which does. I see no reason to assume that having married priests will alter that: they too will be seen as collaborators. Of course, it will be said, if this is the first step, to be followed by allowing contraception, women priests, celebration of gay relationships... Then we'll know that everything is all right. But all that clearly isn't a real possibility for orthodox Catholicism.

In sum, married priests might solve the numbers issue, but even that isn't a clear gain. In regard to the 'softer' advantages such as resemblance to the laity and plausibility in the issue of child abuse, such advantages, even if they exist are small and doubtful; and there are clear disadvantages. (Ask divorced clergy.) Maybe married priests should be allowed: it's clearly possible in a way that allowing women to be priests isn't. But my own view is that the advantages are so unclear that it's an unwise step.

After all, it's not that the married ministry of the Protestant churches is so obviously successful...

But today the Church of Scotland, founded with such lofty ideals, looks to be a kirk in crisis.

Membership has fallen by more than two-thirds in the past 40 years. The number of baptisms, which could indicate future members, has plunged from almost 17,000 in 1991 to just over 6,000 in 2009.

(Full article here.)

[The rather nice photo of a married Greek Catholic Priest above is from the OrthCath blog which also has an interesting article on married priests in the Byzantine Rite.]

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Happy blogoversary to me!

                                             It all started with a creepy clown....

One year ago, I started this blog with the above picture and a post that ruminated on the difficulties of getting the Church's message over in a society where the ordinary, decent person's view of Catholic teaching and spokesmen was that they were 'bizarre and a little scary'.

My blogging was born out of two related impulses: first, I had recently been spending (imprudently) large amounts of time defending Catholic views in (predominantly) Scottish comboxes around issues such as the Pope's visit and the introduction of euthanasia, and I wanted to provide a more stable platform for the expression of such arguments; second, Scotland and the UK as a whole were obviously entering into a period where Catholicism was going to be under increasing public attack. My main emphases were going to be the tradition of Catholic philosophical thinking and a  focus on external challenges to Catholicism rather than internal ones.

Well, anyway, here we are one year on. Many thanks to all of those who have interacted with me online in some way (including the Catholic Herald troll who gave the most enjoyable (and possibly accurate) assessment of my contributions to public debate as 'faux intellectual claptrap'). As a 'review of the year', here are the top five posts judged by viewer numbers. Happy reading, and I look forward to your company over the coming year!


Living together before marriage....


Borgen, marriage and deontology...


F is for Fake (and Feminine)...


Gerry Hassan, Cardinal O'Brien, and the future of Scotland...


Tom Holland -part deux...

Monday, 15 October 2012

Nobel Prize winner talking about embryos

Although I had vaguely been aware that the Nobel Prize for Medicine has just been awarded for work on adult stem cells -and thus is good news for pro-lifers opposed to the use of embryonic stem cells- I hadn't realized the full pro-life story behind this until I read the Catholic Herald's quote (not online) from one of the winners, Dr Yamanaka:

When I saw the embryo, I suddenly realized there was such a small difference between it and my daughters,” said Dr. Yamanaka. … “I thought, we can’t keep destroying embryos for our research. There must be another way.”

A bit of chasing on the web tracked down the full story which can be found here.

As the article puts it:

Shinya Yamanaka, a scientist at Kyoto University, loved stem-cell research. But he didn’t want to destroy embryos. So he figured out a way around the problem. In a paper published five years ago in Cell, Yamanaka and six colleagues showed how “induced pluripotent stem cells” could be derived from adult cells and potentially substituted, in research and therapy, for embryonic stem cells. Today, that discovery earned him a Nobel Prize, shared with British scientist John Gurdon. But the prize announcement and much of the media coverage missed half the story. Yamanaka’s venture wasn’t just an experiment. It was a moral project.

Well worth reading, and well worth pondering why the love of unborn children, in much of our modern media, is the love that really dare not speak its name.

[Update 16/10: Stacy Trasancos has rightly drawn attention to the existence of some (possibly) immoral aspects to Dr Yamanaka's work, in particular, the use of embryonic material as part of the process. See here for article. Whatever the details of the science and ethical consequences here -and I'm not even going to pretend to grapple with these- I'll stand by the above post: the recognition of the value of the unborn by Dr Yamanaka should be celebrated, even if the expression of that concern involved immorality.]

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Nature and morality

One of the things that pulled me into Catholicism was its tradition of philosophical thinking (rooted in Classical philosophy) on human nature and morality apart the revealed truths found (eg) in Scripture. This crops up, for example, in the debates on same sex 'marriage' where Catholic apologists offer arguments based on human nature (eg the role of marriage in society in raising children) rather than the supernatural completion of that nature finally in seeing God. On an everyday level, failure to observe the differences between what can be said based on natural law and what can be said based on revelation leads to the familiar situation of Catholics either leading a schizophrenic existence where they fear that by speaking in 'human terms', they are somehow betraying deeper, theological truths; or that situation (more commonly found among some Protestants) where even the most mundane remark is translated into 'Bible speak'. Catholicism offers a picture (and a vocabulary) showing a full integration between our human nature and that grace offered to us by God.

Ed Feser (as usual) puts all this much better than I do in his recent blogpost:

The tendency to confuse the natural and the supernatural can be found not only in the opponents of natural law theory but also in some of its friends.  On the one hand there are critics of Catholic sexual morality who suppose that it is grounded merely in scripture, or tradition, or the authority of the popes.  And on the other hand there are well-meaning orthodox Catholic writers who at least seem to suppose that Catholic sexual morality can only be understood and defended in theological terms -- in terms of the “theology of the body,” say, or “covenant theology.”  Both suppositions are in error, for at least the fundamental aspects of Catholic sexual morality (and certainly its most controversial aspects) are grounded in natural law, and thus in premises that are accessible to all human beings (whether or not they are Catholic) and that would remain true even if there had been no divine revelation on which to base the theological approaches in question.  

That is not to say that these theological approaches to do not have value.  The point is rather that they are not and cannot be complete accounts of sexual morality.  They can supplement what we know from natural reason, but cannot replace it.  For grace builds on nature.  When we ignore nature in favor of grace or blur the boundary between them, we distort the latter and make the former inaccessible to those who do not know or accept divine revelation.  That is why, for many non-Catholics, Catholic teaching on sexual morality falsely seems like mere diktat, or at best something purely theological that can have appeal only to those already convinced of the moral relevance of the story of Adam and Eve, or of analogies between spouses on the one hand and Christ and the Church on the other.

Full post.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Abortion and reducing time limits: helpful links

A quick post as much to give myself a convenient place for links to chase these issues up as anything else...

Anyone following some of the main Catholic blogs recently will have seen a debate around the reduction of time limits for abortion. As it is clear orthodox Catholic teaching that human life starts at conception and the direct, intended killing of such a life is always wrong, the debate has not centred on whether a reduction in some sense would 'solve' the problem of abortion, but rather, given this clear prohibition on abortion, whether Catholics in good conscience can support a reduction in time limits which would leave abortion otherwise legal.

In essence, the problem is one of, on the one hand, a possible reduction in lives lost, versus, on the other, possible co-operation with the morally wrong act of abortion.

Apart from the underlying theological and philosophical issues here, much of the discussion has centred on the authoritative teaching, Evangelium Vitae (EV) particularly the interpretation of section 73, paras 2 and 3:

In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to "take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law, or vote for it".

A particular problem of conscience can arise in cases where a legislative vote would be decisive for the passage of a more restrictive law, aimed at limiting the number of authorized abortions, in place of a more permissive law already passed or ready to be voted on. Such cases are not infrequent. It is a fact that while in some parts of the world there continue to be campaigns to introduce laws favouring abortion, often supported by powerful international organizations, in other nations-particularly those which have already experienced the bitter fruits of such permissive legislation-there are growing signs of a rethinking in this matter. In a case like the one just mentioned, when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects. 

Now my reading of this is that the general prohibition in para 2, is then nuanced by para 3: Catholic legislators can vote for more restrictive legislation on the grounds that this does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects. 

Paul Priest (in a discussion on Catholic and Loving it) has drawn my attention to a document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 'Considerations regarding proposals to give legal recognition to unions between homosexual persons' (here) which contains the gloss on EV 73 in section 10:

If it is not possible to repeal such a law completely, the Catholic politician, recalling the indications contained in the Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae, “could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality”, on condition that his “absolute personal opposition” to such laws was clear and well known and that the danger of scandal was avoided.(18) This does not mean that a more restrictive law in this area could be considered just or even acceptable; rather, it is a question of the legitimate and dutiful attempt to obtain at least the partial repeal of an unjust law when its total abrogation is not possible at the moment.

My reading of this is that it simply confirms the general teaching of EV 73 but applied in the specific context of same sex marriage (ie it isn't intended to clarify, but merely repeat the general principles). That said, I read it as making the same point that I have already noted: a vote for 'a more restrictive law' (EV) must be understood, ceteris paribus, as an attempt to repeal that original law rather than voting for whatever abortions remain after the new restriction ('it is a question of the legitimate and dutiful attempt to obtain at least the partial repeal of an unjust law when its total abrogation is not possible at the moment' (CDF)).

So that's my understanding so far. And that understanding, that voting for a reduction in the age limits for abortion is ceteris paribus licit, is the understanding held by (eg) John Finnis. Online materials which support a similar line are:

Luke Gormally: (see section 5) 'Personal and social responsibility in the context of the defence of human life:
the question of cooperation in evil' (here)

Angel Rodríguez Luño Evangelium Vitae 73: the Catholic lawmaker and the problem of a seriously unjust law.(Here)

Against that interpretation is the line that EV 73 3 has to be understood more restrictively. It does not support a fresh law with reduced limits (but still some abortion) because that is forbidden by the clear prohibition of section 73 2: it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to "take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law, or vote for it". The permissions of 73. 3 are restricted to simple repeal  (either of the whole law or particular clauses) or for separate measures which might restrict the harms without endorsing abortion. Arguments along this line can be found at:

Paul Priest's blogpost: 'Abortion limits a truly moral response' (here).
James Hanink 'Abortion, Prudence, and Solidarity' (here (PDF))
Michael Baker 'Mnsgr Luno's view of EV 73' (blogpost here).

Clearly, there are other, more scholarly works available off line: the above is simply an attempt to provide some serious reading which is available online. Secondly, I've tried to focus on just one issue: the interpretation of the Magisterial teaching contained in EV 73. There are other theological and philosophical issues at stake, and it may well be that if (as I believe) a vote for reducing time limits in abortion law would in principle be licit, there may other considerations that make it either in fact illicit or imprudent.

Anyway, hope I've set out the issues on both sides reasonably fairly. Please feel free to provide further links in any comments. I'm probably going to duck out of any discussion for a while a) because other duties call and b) I've got as far with the above as I think I can and I need to read and think about the issues while engaging with other literature (eg Colin Harte's book Changing Unjust Laws Justly).

(And that was supposed to be a quick post...Eeek!)

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Was Cardinal O'Brien insulted?

I know bloggers are supposed to project an air of omniscience in which no topic, however arcane, or no piece of tittle tattle, however exclusive to the Holyrood village, is unsuitable material on which to exercise our nearly infinite intellects... But I really have absolutely no idea where this came from and where it's going to.

THE Scottish Government yesterday dismissed claims that the lead researcher on its same-sex marriage consultation “insulted” Christian views and was 
rude about Cardinal Keith O’Brien.

The allegations surfaced in a parliamentary question tabled by Michael McMahon, the Labour MSP for Uddingston and Bellshill.

Mr McMahon asked the Scottish Government about its position on “reports that the lead researcher on its consultation on civil partnership and same-sex marriage ‘insulted and belittled’ Christian views while preparing the report and ‘directed obscenities’ at Cardinal Keith O’Brien in the presence of other members of the analysis team.”

The reports were denied by Alex Neil, the minister in charge of the gay marriage legislation.

[The Scotsman]

It's all very unclear. Is it claimed that the researcher insulted him face to face? Or did s/he (the name on the consultation report is Lucy Robertson) simply badmouth him afterwards in office chat? (Given the usual mindset of those non-Catholics with a social science background in Scotland, it'd probably be more of a story if s/he hadn't badmouthed him.)

It'd be hard to demonstrate any bias in the report. Those of us who were naive enough to think there might be some engagement with the substance of our arguments won't have got much out of the finished article which is simply an analysis of the responses with no attempt to engage critically with any of the views. I'm not sure bias in wielding scissors and paste would be evident. The report fails to engage critically with the issues, but that could be said by both sides of the argument. They'd made up their minds. It was a mere formality.

Anyway, official report of the Parliamentary question here.

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on reports that the lead researcher on its consultation on civil partnership and same sex marriage "insulted and belittled" Christian views while preparing the report and "directed obscenities" at Cardinal Keith O’Brien in the presence of other members of the analysis team.

Answered by Alex Neil (02/10/2012): < >We have received no evidence to suggest that the lead analyst in relation to this consultation "insulted and belittled" Christian views and "directed obscenities" at Cardinal O'Brien. The analysis,, reflects the points made by Christians and others who responded to the consultation. The government is satisfied that the analysis of responses to the consultation reflects accurately and fairly the comments that were made by consultees responding to the consultation.

Current Status: Answered by Alex Neil on 02/10/2012

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Latin, the Church and Hobbits

Just picked up that the Hobbit has been translated into Latin. (H/T Remedia Fernandes.) I'll almost certainly go ahead and buy it, even if the comments (and examples) given by Alatius in a forum discussion do suggest the translation is less than ideal.

While these translations of modern classics into Latin are a great deal of fun (well, they amuse me!), they do raise a general point about the place of Latin in the Church. Most Catholic discussion of Latin focuses on the liturgy and particularly the never ending struggle between the Extraordinary and Ordinary Forms of the Mass. That's not really something I want to get involved in: I simply follow Benedict XVI and particularly Summorum Pontificum in wanting both to be freely available.

However, the issue of Latin in the Church is wider than its liturgical use. For one thing, if Latin is to be widely used liturgically again, what does that entail for the proper education of priests and even more so, the laity? (I say 'even more so' because, while it seems obvious that priestly formation would have to include Latin, the issue of more Latin for the laity doesn't seem to have been widely addressed. Are Catholic schools boosting the Latin content of their curriculums?) The foundation of a Pontifical Academy for the promotion of Latin whilst excellent in itself then raises the question of what it will practically do to boost knowledge and use of Latin in the Church on the ground.

I was at the tail end of the generation that received some grounding of Latin in state schools. I don't know of any state schools that still teach Classical Latin and Greek in Scotland. There may be some, but a quick google and personal anecdote suggest that any that do will be rarae aves: certainly, none of my children have been offered the subjects.

The absence of Latin cuts off Catholics from a serious engagement with the pre-Vatican II Church. Certainly,  to get a good academic understanding of scholasticism, you need some familiarity with Latin. At the very least, failure to get such a grounding provides a psychological block to engaging with the pre-Vatican II Church: books and papers that relied on a familiarity of the reader with Latin become difficult to use; the constant use of technical phrases in a language that is little more than squiggles to the reader becomes irksome. Most importantly, the inevitable differences between English translations of fundamental Latin technical terms makes exact understanding of philosophical and theological terminology difficult.)

Without any Latin, the possibility of a hermeneutic of continuity is made much more difficult: the pre-Vatican II Church becomes linguistically foreign and recedes out of sight. It is perhaps the decline of the non-liturgical knowledge of Latin that is even more important than the decline of the liturgical use (even if the two are linked). A Church that has abandoned the scholarly use of a language that was the exclusive medium for its thought for most of the two thousand years of its existence is not and cannot be serious about continuity. It cannot, moreover, be entirely serious about lay understanding of theology if any knowledge of the language is confined to priests and a few specialized lay academics.

By 2050—earlier, probably—all real knowledge of Oldspeak will have disappeared. The whole literature of the past will have been destroyed. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Byron—they'll exist only in Newspeak versions, not merely changed into something different, but actually contradictory of what they used to be. Even the literature of the Party will change. Even the slogans will change. How could you have a slogan like "freedom is slavery" when the concept of freedom has been abolished? The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact there will be no thought, as we understand it now. 

(Orwell's 1984.)