Saturday, 28 February 2009

The Lenten Lunches and Christian Aid’s Abortion Policy

The following text can be downloaded as Word document from our Google Drive here

The annual Lenten Lunches had been an important ecumenical event in the life of Shaftesbury for many years, and all the different denominations had contributed. The problem, however, is that though this has been seen as anecumenical event the proceeds have all gone to only one charity: Christian Aid. This fact acquires a more problematic nature given Christian Aid’s development of an abortion policy that many Christians do not consider to be acceptable –in particular, Catholics.

At a national level, concerns have been raised about Christian Aid's policy on abortion. These concerns have been voiced locally at Churches Together in Shaftesbury. Recently, it had seemed that a compromise might be possible whereby the percentage of the Lenten Lunches contributions estimated to come from Catholics will go towards CAFOD instead of Christian Aid. Sadly, the organisers of the Lenten Lunches have just informed me yesterday that they do not consider this acceptable I therefore feel there is no other option than for St Edward’s to withdraw our support for the Lenten Lunches this year. It is important for us to maintain our moral integrity in opposing abortion even if others no longer recognise that they too have this responsibility. It is my hope to speak to the organisers of the Lenten Lunches more formally later and possibly arrange something else for next year.

With respect to Christian Aid's policy on abortion: Stephen Dominy, Christian Aid Volunteer Development Officer –Dorset, wrote to the local Shaftesbury Christian Aid on 20 November 2008. His letter says "that Shaftesbury Catholic Church has withdrawn support for Christian Aid because of [Christian Aid’s] stance on abortion". The letter proceeds to describe (part of) Christian Aid’spolicy on abortion, which it claims is “categorical”. The policy cited states, “Christian Aid does not support abortion clinics and does not promote abortion or regard it as a desirable form of birth control, and works hard with partners overseas to remove or alleviate the extreme conditions of poverty that make the need for abortion even to be considered."

However, the above statement is not one that can be considered to be “categorical”. In fact, it does not easily square with a more detailed reading of Christian Aid's November 2001 statement. That statement repeatedly refers to “reproductive health services”, one of the standard means of referring to abortion agencies. For example,
n.2 ... Provision of adequate reproductive health and education servicesfor poor women is crucial so they can limit the number of children theyhave in a safe and informed way.
n.4(c)... [Christian Aid] is supportive of all people, through appropriate primary health care systems, having access to reproductive health services...
n.7 common with other ecumenical development and aid agencies, Christian Aid has funded organisations that provide support to poor women in crisis, including the provision of counselling services to inform victims of their legal rights, both in terms of advice on legal abortions as well as the risks of illegal abortions.

The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), in its 2006 CharitiesReport, thus describes Christian Aid’s abortion policy as, at best, “equivocal”.I hope the above helps to indicate the serious reservations about Christian Aid,and why I cannot recommend that the Catholic parish here in Shaftesbury support the Lenten Lunches this year, or in future years if the organisers fail to consider a mutually acceptable compromise.

Fr Dylan James
Parochial Administrator, St Edward’s Catholic Church, Shaftesbury, 28Feb09


February 2009 Newsletter item:
No Catholic Support for Shaftesbury Lenten Lunches
Sadly, due to Christian Aid’s policy on abortion I cannot offer our support to the Lenten Lunches (whose proceeds go to Christian Aid). All Christians have a duty to maintain their moral integrity. This said, we as Catholics must continue to do so even if others take the mistaken view that abortion is somehow compatible with Christian charity. There are many other charities we can support that are not morally ambiguous. It is my hope to speak to the organisers of the Lenten Lunches more formally later and possibly arrange something else for next year that would enable us to support the Lenten Lunches. More information is on the noticeboard.


As an update to the above, please note the following comments about Christian Aid and its policy on abortion, taken from SPUC:
Christian Aid
This page was created on 22 July 2011 and updated on 22 July 2011. Please send any information you may have about this charity to Anthony Ozimic, either by email to or post to SPUC HQ. For any older information about this charity or other charities, please see the 2006 edition of SPUC's Charities Bulletin.

Christian Aid is a UK-based charity which provides aid to developing countries. It is sponsored by the main Christian denominations in the UK with the exception of the Catholic Church.
In a letter (8 March 2011) to SPUC, Loretta Minghella, Christian Aid's director said that: While not supporting abortion clinics, Christian Aid follows the laws of each country it works within, i.e.,places where abortion is legal.
• "Christian Aid does not fund abortions." But Christian Aid does fund organisations that"...provide support to poor women in crisis, including the provision of counselling services to inform victims of their legal rights, both in terms of advice on legal abortions as well as the risks of illegal abortions."
• "Christian Aid does fund partners that work with young people to ensure they have increased access to accurate, evidence-based and appropriate education around the issues of sexual and reproductive health rights..." SPUC comment: It should be noted that "sexual and reproductive health rights" is used commonly as either a technical term or a euphemism for abortion on demand. Also, terms such as "increased access" and "accurate, evidence-based" are used commonly as euphemisms for abortion services and pro-abortion propaganda.
• "....[Christian Aid's] partners also work to strengthen young girls' capabilities for informed and autonomous decision-making, in particular to help reduce sexual violence, unintended pregnancies and associated risks." SPUC comment: "informed and autonomous decision-making" is a phrase used commonly as a euphemism for abortion on demand.
• "Christian Aid does work with partners that promote use of and access to contraception and wesee this as part of our critical strategy around training healthcare staff." SPUC comment: many forms of contraception also act to cause early abortions. Also, greater provision of contraception has been shown to lead to higher rates of abortion.
The autumn 2010 edition of "Christian Aid News" said (p.22) that: “Part of the answer is improving reproductive health services, which include contraception...”
Christian Aid have no policy on embryo research."

Sunday, 22 February 2009

7th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Shaftesbury

Mk 2:1-12
As Christians, we acknowledge that Jesus Christ is God, and was always God. I want to say a few words about HOW Jesus claimed to be God.
It is not a normal thing to claim to be God, and if I stood here today and I claimed to you that I am God, you would rightly conclude that I am mad.

It follows, that when Jesus wanted to tell people that He was God, He had to tell people gradually, and He had to tell people in such a way that they would realise that His claim to be God made sense, and was not just a sign that He was mad Himself.

In today's gospel passage we see one of many clear examples in the Gospels of how Jesus claimed to be God.
Jesus claimed to be God as a part of what He taught and what He did. He taught what only God was allowed to teach, and He did what only God was allowed to do, and what only God was able to do.

Jesus came to earth that we might be forgiven for our sins. In order to do that, He Himself, as God, came to earth to forgive us. And in order that people might know that they can be forgiven, they needed to know that HE can forgive our sins.
As we just heard, He claimed the authority to forgive sins: “My child, your sins are forgiven you”.
Now, those who heard him understood that this was a claim to be God, because it was a claim to do what only God is allowed to do. That's why he's here is accused him of blasphemy: “Who can forgive sins but God?”, they rightly said.

The response that Jesus made to this accusation is highly significant:
He did not say that sins can be forgiven by someone other than God,
rather, He made a further claim for Himself, He claimed that He had the power to heal. And He then proved that He had the power by working the miracle.
But He only did this in order to prove His other claim, namely, that He was God, and that He thus had the authority of God Himself to forgive sin.
“ to prove to you that the Son of Man has authority on to forgive sin ...”

It is worth noting, that even at this stage, Jesus only made this claim gradually. His claim to be God only became fully believable in the context of His death and resurrection. That is why it is only AFTER the resurrection that Thomas finally knelt before Him and proclaimed, “My Lord and my God”.
Before the resurrection, we read the repeated pattern that Jesus would heal people, but then tell them to keep what He had done private: He wanted to only be fully understood in the light of what He finally displayed in the resurrection.

This week, we start Lent, and we turn our thoughts to those final events of His life, those final events where His gradual claim to be God was finally brought into focus. But as we do so, it is important to remember that His claim to have the power to save us, His claim to be God, was something He had been gradually doing and revealing in the many miracles and teachings that He worked the three public years of His life.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Shaftesbury

Lev 13:1-46; Mk 1:40-45
I want to say few words about what has been a major media attack on the Pope these last few weeks, about that bishop who made comments denying the Jewish Holocaust.

I want to first explain the purpose of excommunication. In our first reading, from Leviticus, we heard about how it was the ancient practice for lepers to be expelled from the community for the health of the community -to prevent everyone catching leprosy. The leper could only return when he was healed.
Excommunication has a similar purpose: someone is excommunicated from the Church in order to prevent the Church being damaged: in serious matters, the cancers of heresy and disobedience need to be cut out from the Church by excommunication. Heresy opposes truth and it is truth that holds the Church to Christ; and, disobedience likewise opposes common unity. Thus excommunication is for the health of the whole Church. The person can only returned when ‘healed’ of his error.
But there is a second purpose in excommunication: in order to call someone to change and repentance, i.e. the health of their own soul, not just the health of the rest of the Church.

So, what about the particular excommunication that led to this media event?
In 1988 Archbishop Lefebvre argued that the Mass should be said according to the old pre-Vatican II rite in Latin. Disobeying the Pope he illicitly ordained four bishops, and for this act of disobedience they were all automatically excommunicated.
Now, these renegade bishops have a large following. In fact, these bishops have such a large following that in France there are more Catholics who attend these illicit Old Rite Masses in Latin than attend the New Rite Masses in French.
So, despite having excommunicated them, Pope John Paul II was keen that these bishops should be persuaded to return to full communion with the Catholic Church –healed of their separation.

The leader of these four bishops applied to Pope Benedict for them all to have the excommunication lifted. The group was investigated by the Vatican, and it seemed that the healing purpose of excommunication was in the process of being achieved. Pope Benedict thus decided to lift the excommunication incurred by the 1988 disobedience of their ordination. These renegade bishops are thus now in communion with the Church, but their canonical situation is still irregular and they have not been given appointments like diocese etc -they are still irregular bishops, in the process of being regularised.

In the midst of this situation, one of these 4 bishops made some bizarre comments about the Holocaust. Bishop Williamson claimed that only 300,000 not 6 million Jews were exterminated in the Second World War. His statement to this effect only became public very recently, and the Pope was unaware of it when it was decided to lift the excommunication. The Pope has called on him to retract this opinion; in fact, the other three of the four bishops have also asked him to retract, he was forced to resign from the seminary position he held in the Society of St Pius X, and he has been silenced by his own Society.

What then should we make of this statement that ‘only’ 300,000 Jews were exterminated? Such a statement seems odd, crazy, and probably racist. The Church does not encourage us to be odd or crazy and strongly condemns the sin of racism -the Church herself is made of many races and favours none of them. Yet, excommunication is a very serious penalty, and this racist anti-Semitic statement is not in itself grounds to be excommunicated, though it is grounds to be condemned, and the Pope has strongly condemned this statement.

I would make one final comment: I said that the Church favours no individual race. However, this is not quite true, there is in fact one race that the Pope favours: both before and after being elected Pope, he has repeatedly taught that there is a race favoured by God, and the race our German Pope refers to is not the uber-race of the Germans but is in fact the Jews, the original chosen People of God. As St Paul says in Scripture (Romans 11:28-29), that the original promise that God made to the race of Abraham and his descendants holds true even if they do not recognise Christ the Messiah –God does not withdraw His promises.
So, for the media to implicitly or explicitly accuse Pope Benedict of anti-Semitism is to manifest their ignorance of what he has taught does teach and will continue to teach.

Some references:
(1) The Pope was unaware of Bishop Williamson's comments when he lifted teh excommunication:
(2) The Pope has called on him to retract this opinion:
(3) The other three of the four bishops have also asked him to retract:
(4) He was forced to resign from the seminary position he held in the Society of St Pius X,and he has been silenced by his own Society:
(5)Pope Benedict reiterates that anti-Semitism has no place in the Church:

Sunday, 8 February 2009

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Shaftesbury

Job 7:1-4.6-7; Mk 1:29-39
“Is not man’s life on the earth nothing more than pressed service, his time no better than hired drudgery?
Lying in my bed I wonder, ‘When will it be day?’
Risen I think, ‘How slowly evening comes!’
My life is but a breath, And… my eyes will never again see joy.”(From Job)
This book of Job is one of my favourite books of the Bible (along with Lamentations and Ecclesiastes), and it talks about the incredible suffering that comes to the man Job. I like it, not because I’ve known the extremity of his pain, but because, like all of us, I know something of suffering, and something too of the uneasy questions suffering puts to our faith.

The suffering of Job is all the more significant, in that it is the suffering of a GOOD man, a righteous man, a man who cannot see WHY he is suffering –after all, he hasn’t done anything wrong. Job never gets an answer as to why this is happening to him. Job’s friends try to explain why he is suffering, but they fail. And at the end of it all, God appears, and he refuses to give a reason as to why suffering has come to Job. Instead he rebukes Job, for daring to demand the reasons for God’s actions, because Job is a mere creature. God’s ways are beyond Job, and he has no right to question them.

In the fullness of time, God has given us a more complete answer to the mystery of suffering. Like all truth, it is revealed in Jesus Christ.
We see part of that answer in the simple fact, that when God, the Lord Jesus, appeared on earth, he went about healing the sick, as we heard in the gospel. And that teaches us the truth we already knew from Genesis, in the Fall of Adam and Eve, that God does not DIRECTLY intend suffering. When he created the world it was free of pain, and suffering only entered the world when WE damaged it with Adam and Eve’s Original Sin.

Sin, evil and suffering all entered the world together, and Christ came to heal the world of them. He preached the moral truth against sin, he forgave the repentant, and he healed those in suffering. And just as these three entered the world together, they were vanquished together by Christ on the Cross. Christ embraced all pain, and offered himself as the perfect sacrifice for our sin, saying “Forgive them, Father”, as he hung there for us.

It is in Christ on the Cross that we see the answer to mystery of suffering. We see his desire to be united to us in our pain, to strengthen us to carry our own crosses. We see that suffering is a result of Original Sin, and that God overcame sin on the Cross. But we also see a deeper truth about how God’s Providence works through suffering.

The men who condemned Jesus, and had him put to death, did so out of their own evil motives. But we know that unknown to them God was also at work, not desiring their evil, but still working through it. God achieved an even greater good out of their evil –the salvation of mankind that we celebrate in every Mass. And the new Catechism (599-600) teaches us that this is the pattern of all of God’s working.
We may not see how, but he is at work, even in our pain, to achieve an even greater good for us. We have this as a promise in scripture: “All things work for the good of those who love the Lord”(Rom 8:28). But the even greater promise of it, is that we see it in the life, suffering, death and resurrection of his own dear Son.

The exact answer to the question, why is THIS particular thing happening to ME, we won’t know until the Lord reveals it to us on the Last Day. But we do know that he is with us on the cross, and that he is working in us to achieve even greater things for us. This is the truth we see in Jesus Christ, especially on the Cross. When, like Job, we fear that we shall “never again see joy”, then the truth of Christ on the Cross, is what we should ponder in hope.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Shaftesbury

1 Cor 7:32-35
As you can see, my wrist is in a caste, and will be until the end of February. I did it hiking, going down a steep muddy hill in the Donheads, slipped & fell onto my hand, and here I am!
It’s not a total disaster, my other arm can still reach for a beer bottle, however, it does stop me doing all sorts of things.

Now, certain people have suggested to me that this is a great opportunity to “suffer for Jesus”. And indeed it is.
It is always good to be reminded of how many other people suffer, to be reminded of what it is like to be limited and in pain.
It is also good to have a chance to offer a sacrifice of prayer, to take my pain and unite it to that of Jesus on the Cross. As St Paul says, to make up in my own body for what is lacking in Christ’s sufferings for the sake of the Church (Col 1:24). To make my pain, physical and the emotional discomfort, into a prayer for others –as a priest, to pray for those entrusted to my care.
And it is good to do this passively, to have it thrust upon me, not just to voluntarily offer fasting sacrifices on Fridays etc. –it is very humbly to accept such things passively.

But one thing I have realised, in a new way, is that the suffering itself can be a distraction from remembering to offer it up.
I am right handed and it is my right hand that is gone. Until Friday I was not allowed to drive. I still cannot write properly or type –no emails please.
All this means that my life is a mess –disorganised, chaos, my mind is confused.
So, at the very time I could be taking this opportunity to mentally offer it all up, I am too confused to do so –which is why the habit of voluntary sacrifices the rest of the time is so important.
At present I feel I am in a missed opportunity!

Our second reading had St Paul refer to a very special opportunity: being single for the Lord, able to be about the Lord’s affairs continually. To be mentally free to think of the Lord continually, and to think of the things of the Lord, to pray for the needs of the world continually to the Lord, and to be busy DIRECTLY with the things of the Lord.
The greatness of this vocation has been extolled by the Lord Jesus, by St Paul, and by the Church in every age –it is rightly called the “higher” vocation that directly unites someone’s heart and life to the Beloved, Christ.
The “consecrated life” as it is called is a sign to all of us of a life lived for God and with God and fulfilled in God.
If a husband, to be a husband for the Lord, to love wife as means of loving God.
If a mother, to be a mother for the Lord, to love children as a means of loving God.
It’s a vocation we need to encourage –used to be many nuns, now, not fashionable, not glamorous, not “successful” enough –because God himself is lower on the priority list.
It is a life full of opportunity and a sign to us of our need to use our opportunities.

We might look at this vocation with a bit of jealous –“easy for them” etc. “I’d be saint if I had an opportunity as easy as that”.
But, how do we use the opportunities God has given US?
Like my broken hand! A perfect opportunity to life with Christ on the Cross, to pray and suffer for others. And yet, an opportunity so easily wasted!

St Paul refers to giving “your undivided attention to the Lord” (1 Cor 7:35).
Whether we are single, or married, Whether our wrist is broken, or not,
We need to offer God what we have with the opportunities that we have –because if we don’t use what he has given us we can hardly expect to be given more.