Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Archbishop Justin on the tragic death of his daughter



In an age of political superficiality, spiritual relativism, economic depression and cultural fragmentation, it is sometimes difficult holding things together. In some ways, the task of the Church in this country has never been harder - at least pastorally. The cure of souls - the cura animarum - has always been the task of Christian leaders, from archbishops to lay readers: the calling is to be a shepherd who cares for his individual flock as the Good Shepherd cares for His universal Church. But the old certainties - those rooted in the Judæo-Christian tradition - have gone: we do not merely dispute the integrity of the shepherd, but the Truth of the Shepherd. We inhabit a different country, one in which theology, public worship and human fellowship have been replaced by psychology, counselling theory and Facebook. Community reality has given way to individual isolation; communities of faith to the Twitter hordes of secularism, mysticism, intuition and unbridled emotion.

We are much wealthier in the West than we were 50 years ago, but hope has diminished. And so has happiness, if statistics on mental health and social breakdown are taken as measures of a society at ease with itself. The pervasive sense of fragmentation and despair has a profound effect upon the task of pastoral care; of how we integrate our faith and praxis, and how the transcendent power of God may be communicated to the self-confident, self-governing, self-mediating homo autonomous.

Into this crisis God raises up a man called Justin. He has no substantial experience of church leadership, no great insights in anthropology or political science, and no impressive doctorates in theology or philosophy. All he knows is Christ and Him crucified. He understands the twisted power of sin and the joy of a salvation that releases people into a new relationship of dependence upon God. He has grieved deeply in his suffering and profound loss, and the memory still chokes him.

What more could God have given to His Church at this time than an archbishop who is relational, rational and authentic? What better gift of leadership could He have bestowed than one who seeks to understand, mediate and reconcile? What greater shepherd could He have raised up than one who knows the Truth and how to express it in analogies of movement in space; in certainty and speculation; in declaration and dance?

Archbishop Justin has come to build, teach, preach, train, supervise, maintain and act. And the task is urgent, for we are sinking in a morass of cant, hypocrisy, double standards, cold formality and the denial of reality - not only outside the Church but within it. No wonder those who are being lost reject the Faith of love, and the One who died in agony in order that they might live with joy, hope and peace.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Archbishop Vincent Nichols hails 'the end of the Reformation in England'


It's funny. You hear absolutely nothing from Westminster's Roman Catholic Cathedral for months and months on end, and then up pops Archbishop Vincent Nichols - leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales - with a triumphal declaration that the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, marked 'the end of the Reformation in England'.

It's funny, because the Archbishop was present with a couple of cardinals at Canterbury Cathedral last week for the Enthronement of the Most Reverend Justin Welby as the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury. And he will have heard fulsome tribute paid to His Grace on the anniversary of his martyrdom, in the presence of the Prince of Wales, the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and sundry other senior politicians, not to mention religious leaders from all over the world. He will have heard how the Book of Common Prayer renewed the Church, 'leaving a legacy of worship, of holding to the truth of the gospel, on which we still draw'.

His Grace could not quite see if the Roman contingent said 'Amen' at the conclusion of his Collect, but if that Inauguration ceremony somehow represented the continuation of 'the end of the Reformation in England', then let it go on ending.

John Bingham's article in The Daily Telegraph is remarkable on a number of levels, not least of which is the adherence of an Ulster Prod to the Telegraph's house style of referring to the 'Catholic approach..'; 'Catholic practices..'; 'Catholic voice..' and 'Catholic understanding..' but 'protestant reserve' and 'protestant reformers'. Even the word 'Reformation' becomes 'reformation' beneath the title of the piece.

The Reformation has ended alright - but only in the offices of The Daily Telegraph which, under the Roman Catholic Barclay brothers, has incrementally morphed into a broadsheet tract of the Catholic Herald. Some of their (shared) journalists are pleasant, polite and generously understanding of the constitutional position of the Church of England. A few, however, are virulently, almost pathologically anti-Anglican, seemingly oblivious to the fact that Establishment keeps Christianity at the heart of the British Constitution. Those who rejoice in its weaknesses and flaws, praying daily to Mary for its demise, have seemingly little understanding of history, theology or sociology. And they certainly lack something of the humility and tenderness exhorted by Pope Francis. Even Benedict Brogan tweeted 'about time too' in response to Bingham's news of the end. Do these people not recognise the fons et origo of their liberties?

The Church of England will not be replaced by a victorious Roman Catholic Church: the alternative to the Anglican Settlement is a legal framework of secularity accompanied by an aggressive secularism, under which Christians of all denominations will find themselves despised and rejected.

Perhaps it was just wishful thinking, but Archbishop Vincent is also wrong in his reading of the death of Diana. The weeping and wailing and showering of the Princess’s hearse with flowers did not 'show that the public is reverting to a “Catholic” approach to death after centuries of protestant reserve'. On the contrary: they show an emotional incontinence and outpouring of vague spirituality in an age of materialism and humanism.

The death of Diana in 1997 might indeed represent some sort of 'watershed in British history', but it is not 'the end of the Reformation in England'. His Grace has written previously about 'Dianafication': 'the seeking of a shared and public grief at any given opportunity; the idea that a method of mourning is driven more by selfishness and secularism than by sincerity of emotion; corporate emoting; cumulative and protracted obsession with feelings and intuition.'

This is not a return to Roman Catholicism, but a symptom consistent with the postmodern condition: logic and reason are supplanted by emoting and appeals to the spiritual: politics is no longer the pursuit of policy that works, but policy that feels right. The pendulum has swung towards emotion and the need for spiritual experience. People are no more yearning for the rigidities of Roman Catholicism than they are the strictures of Islam. The age of deference, of respect for institutions, of reference for authority has been replaced by a pervasive à la carte spirituality in which anything goes. The only core philosophy being sought is the self-indulgent mood of sensory satisfaction.

And prayers for the souls of the dead were pagan for millennia before the advent of Catholicism: if they are being 'rediscovered', as the Archbishop avers, that rediscovery isn't quite going hand-in-hand with wholesale submission to the Magisterium of the Church of Rome. And what is particularly Catholic about roadside shrines, flowers and photographs?

His Grace will address one final point, and that is the narrative of 'returning' and 'rediscovering'. Archbishop Vincent said that 'English people were rediscovering their ancient Catholic “voice”'. The thing is, we never lost it. The Church of England is Catholic. We recite the Nicene Creed without hesitation: 'We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.' We pray in our intercessions: 'Loving God, hear us as we pray for your holy Catholic Church'. The point was reiterated by the Archbishop of York during last week's Inauguration:
The Church of England is part of the one, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church worshipping the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It professes the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds; which faith the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation. Led by the Holy Spirit, it has borne witness to Christian truth in its historic formularies, the Thirty- nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons...
The Archbishop of Canterbury responded:
I, Justin Portal Welby, do so affirm, and accordingly declare my belief in the faith which is revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds and to which the historic formularies of the Church of England bear witness..
The Archbishop of Burundi blessed Archbishop Justin with:
Que Dieu l’Esprit Saint vous accorde sagesse et discernement pour ouvrir à toutes et à tous les richesses de la Foi catholique.
The Faith which was rendered in English in the Order of Service with an upper-case 'C':
God the Holy Spirit grant you wisdom and understanding that you may open to all people the riches of the Catholic Faith.
The Church of England is part of a Worldwide ('ecumenical') Communion in which the Catholic Christian tradition is enriched and complemented by the spiritual and theological insights of the Reformation. They are not distinct and separate: they inform and enrich one another. The Catholic tradition in England heeds and remembers the Reformation protest, and the Reformation attends to and observes the Catholic tradition. Whatever the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster may preach, pronounce or believe, the Reformation in England is not at an end. As Bishop Hugh Latimer said to Bishop Nicholas Ridley as they were burned at the stake together: "Play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out."

Monday, March 25, 2013

Holy Immigration - Bishop of Dudley bashes the Prime Minister

So, right on cue (the weekend of the UKIP Spring Conference), David Cameron has announced a raft of policies to curb immigration and address the 'something-for-nothing' welfare free-for-all which permits anyone from the EU - skilled and unskilled alike - to immigrate to Kensington and live in a £3million mansion, claim our Child Benefit and Tax Credits, get their teeth fixed, have their babies and then get those children educated all courtesy of the British taxpayer.

In policies apparently aimed at the imminent influx of 29 million Romanians and Bulgarians, the Prime Minister intends to reduce immigrants' access to benefits by insisting that they prove they are looking for work and requiring residency for at least two years before they can access council housing (an exception will be made for those fleeing 'domestic violence' or 'family breakdown'). If they fulfil neither, it's back to the shanty towns of Romania for them (assuming they don't just 'disappear' into the underworld of illegal immigration). Further, the free-at-the-point-of-need National Health Service will no longer be a free International Health Service. Those requiring treatment will be required to pay for it, or prove they can pay for it, with some sort of NHS 'entitlement' card introduced.

So, presumably, Bulgarian women will be left to give birth in the gutter, and Romanian men will be left to bleed to death from their severed arteries while those who are entitled to treatment sail on ahead of them.

Presumably, also, nothing can or will be done about immigration from the other 24 EU member states, who will remain as free as ever they were to claim whatever benefits and housing they want in order to fulfil their human rights as decreed by the European Convention. We can expect an awful lot of weepy women and quivering children to claim they are fleeing domestic violence. And, in this age of gender equality, expect quite a few butch men to claim the same. Quite how the Border Agency will check the veracity of thousands of such claims is unclear. And neither is it clear what the threshold of 'domestic violence' will be: having watched Channel 4's Gypsy and Traveller brides as they plan their wedding days, it is quite clear that some of their cultural norms - like 'grabbing' - may be deemed to constitute a violation and assault. Will the threat of being 'grabbed' become a passport to UK welfare?

Into this fray steps the Bishop of Dudley, the Rt Rev'd David Walker, who is of the view that politicians exaggerate the negative impact of immigration, which he says is 'wholly disproportionate' to the real threat. He told the Observer: "Public fears around immigration are like fears around crime. They bear little relationship to the actual reality."

The Bishop has served on this board and is a former chairman of that board, and seems well-versed in committee proceedings and waffly proclamations. He opines:
"The tone of the current debate suggests that it is better for 10 people with a legitimate reason for coming to this country to be refused entry than for one person to get in who has no good cause. It is wholly disproportionate as a response. It is especially galling in Holy Week, when Christians are remembering how Jesus himself became the scapegoat in a political battle, to see politicians vying with each other in just such a process.

"Studies show that the vast majority of new arrivals to the UK enhance and enrich our society, both economically and culturally. The true threats to our national wellbeing lie not with those who come to visit or make their lives here but with the increasing gap between the rich and poor among us."
His Grace agrees with the Bishop that the tone of the debate is inappropriate, but only insofar as it is nowhere near as robust and forthright as it needs to be. What is 'especially galling' is for a senior cleric of the Established Church to whinge about the rhetoric without offering any solutions to the immigrant ghettos and shanty towns which are popping up in some of the most densely-populated cities in the UK. Is the Bishop in favour of transitional controls? No? Why not? Does he support the free movement of citizens from other EU member states into this country? Yes? Why?

The Bishop is apparently concerned about such a debate occurring during Holy Week, 'when Christians are remembering how Jesus himself became the scapegoat in a political battle'.

It ought to come as no surprise that an Anglican bishop perceives the Stations of the Cross as a socialist manifesto. But the vast majority of Christians won't give a thought for the politics of immigration as they meditate this week upon the Cross of Calvary. They'll be thanking God that their sins are forgiven; that they are cleansed by the blood of the Holy Lamb of God; that they will rise again on the Last Day in triumph and spend eternity in Glory with their Saviour.

Bishop David ought to try living for a while in Peterborough, Burnley, or Barking and Dagenham, where social cohesion is among the lowest in the country. He might visit a primary school or five in which 26 separate and distinct languages are spoken, and try imparting the National Curriculum into that mêlée. Uncontrolled immigration fractures and fragments communities, significantly increasing public anxiety over housing, doctors, dentists, hospitals and schools. Certainly, some immigrants come to contribute positively - like taking low-skilled jobs or working in the NHS. But many more come to sponge of our welfare and exploit our hospitality. And it is not at all clear why we're not training British teenagers to be doctors or nurses and then granting them preferred employment in the NHS. Perhaps Christians might reflect on that 'political battle' this week as they're staring at their crucifixes.

The Bishop appears to fabricate a ratio of 10:1 of workers to shirkers. Those who demur, of course, are cast as racists or xenophobes. But some councils - obviously not Dudley - are under great pressure from the social consequences of immigration. And, whatever David Cameron says or does or says he is doing, whatever hardline anti-immigrant rhetoric he spouts, it will be about as efficacious as Gordon Brown's plea of 'British jobs for British workers'. The numbers cannot be controlled without the UK taking control once again of its own borders.

So, as the Bishop of Dudley turns Holy Week into a homily on European union and utopian ever closer union, His Grace exhorts you to block your ears to his New-Labour vision of the New Jerusalem, and reflect instead upon the un-socialised Jesus - the real scapegoat.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Palm Sunday: it's time to get out of the boat


From Brother Ivo:

If there is one thing we can be sure of when reading the Bible, it is that the morning Saul of Tarsus took his breakfast before setting out along the Damascus road, he was a man at peace with his certainties.

He was a scholar who had sat at the feet of Gamaliel, and was accordingly well-versed in both the scriptures and the interpretation of them through a long line of learned commentaries. He had his marching orders from high authority. He carried the necessary legal paperwork to enable him to root out heresy in those Jewish communities falling under the malign influence of those seeking to overturn thousands of years of tradition. He had the confidence in his own ability, for, as we can read for ourselves, Saul/Paul can craft an argument with the best of them.

Paul was versed in logic, emboldened by his Roman citizenship, comfortable in his skin – and about to have his world turned upside down. He arrived in Damascus shaken, blind, and with no better plan than to hear instruction from Ananias, who might have been forgiven had he thrown his would-be persecutor out into the street to fend for himself.

Brother Ivo thought of this Bible passage when mulling over the Gospel passage chosen by Archbishop Justin for his sermon at his enthronement ceremony this week.

He chose the text when Peter was called by Jesus to get out of the boat and walk with him on the waters, and it has remained with Brother Ivo over subsequent days.

It was a good choice and it probably sets the tone for the Archbishop’s term of office.

There is, of course, a big difference between these stories of Paul and Peter. Paul has no choice: Jesus hits him like a bolt from the blue and, having struck him, leaves the broken and confused Paul few options but to comply. Peter, on the other hand, has a choice. Any of us who has teetered on the edge of a diving board, or stood at a similar decision point, will understand the difference. Peter has a choice to take or reject a leap of faith, and amazingly finds himself able to do so and to become the person Jesus destined him to be.

We don’t always see what we need to see, however.

Before Archbishop Justin read the Gospel with life, vigour and exciting inflection, a group of African drummers preceded him. Some said they were celebrating the Archbishop. They were not. This was a Gospel procession: they were drumming and leaping for joy for the coming of the Gospel!

We are so used to seeing a dignified slow walk that many did not recognise that the underlying form of the service remained whilst the expression of it was culturally enriched. An exuberant welcoming of the Gospel – how terribly and embarrassingly un-Anglican. Put a stop to it at once!

In both the form of the service – with several innovations and by his sermon message – it seems that Archbishop Justin is calling us all to take similar leaps of faith. Surely his words were nothing if not an exhortation to ‘get out of the boat’.

Yet some fell on stony ground.

Reading the timeline on His Grace's blog it was clear that, far from being open to getting out of the boat, there were a number urging the Archbishop to circle the wagons. All might be well, but only if he turns his back on women’s ministry, refuses even to talk to Peter Tatchell, and consigns ‘Shine Jesus Shine’ to Room 101 where all such abominations rightfully belong.

Yet circled wagons are just not going anywhere.

Getting out of the boat is scary, decidedly perilous, ill-advised and utterly counter-intuitive.

Yet this is what the Archbishop plainly believes we should do and he does so for a simple reason that suffused the service in Canterbury. The reason is the transforming power of Christ.

He is not ashamed to proclaim the transforming power of Christ Crucified. It is not a social gospel or a tradition, but a living transformative relationship. If Jesus wants Peter Tatchell, He will shall welcome him just as he reached out to that other dreadful fellow, Saul, and He knows how to encourage even the most timorous to get out of the boat.

The enthronement sermon can usefully be read in conjunction with the Archbishop’s previous one when he was enthroned at Durham. In that sermon there is a striking passage:
In Africa in 2010 I stood with a group of ten men, by the mass grave holding the bodies of the majority of the village’s women and children, cut down in a raid a few days earlier. In that darkness, because of the gospel, with other raids around us, they spoke of reconciliation. A few years ago I met a cardinal from Vietnam, an Archbishop who had spent 13 years in prison for his faith, tortured, told he was forgotten. In that darkness, because of the gospel, he had led his torturer to faith in Christ and then trained him for ordination when he too was imprisoned, and started a church in the prison, celebrating Mass each day with a grain of rice and enough rice wine to hold in the palm of one hand, and preaching the gospel in whispered sentences during roll call.
A bishop who comes from those experiences knows a thing or two about transformation, daring to step into the unknown and being amazed by what the God of Surprises can achieve when risks are taken.

So the challenge is there for all of us. Which of our certainties, securities, logics and traditions are we prepared to put aside to follow the African dancers leaping and dancing as the living Gospel makes its way through our hallowed buildings?

How ready are we to ‘get out of the boat’?

(Posted by Brother Ivo)

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Separating the Thatcherite sheep from the 'wet' goats


Friday, March 22, 2013

The ecumenical heart of Archbishop Justin Welby


From the four corners of the earth they came to feel the spirit of Anglicanism; to hear the heartbeat of the Church of England; to watch the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury installed in both the Diocesan Throne and the very marble Cathedral Chair once occupied by such luminaries as Augustine, Anselm, Thomas Becket and, indeed, His Grace, along with a host of relative obscurities since and in between.

You can listen to the commentary on iPlayer, or read the reviews online or the printed press. Some are cynical, some ignorant, some well-meaning. A few are thoughtful and respectful, but they won’t be very widely read for want of a mention of gay marriage or women bishops. Myopic critics bemoan the Archbishop’s single mention of the NHS, oblivious to the fact that he is probably the first primate since Frederick Temple to acknowledge the revolutionary Factory Acts of Sir Robert Peel, Benjamin Disraeli and Lord Shafestbury. Yes, indeed, Archbishop Justin gave a nod to ‘One-Nation’ Conservatism, but it was lost on those who ungraciously leap to judgment; who lack tenderness, seeking to find fault or look to the worst in everyone.

The moment the great oak doors of Canterbury Cathedral were flung open, the fanfare seemed to blow away an entire age of theological aloofness and stuffy ecclesiology. We had a new and vibrant liturgical dialogue, written by the Archbishop himself, explaining the whole meaning of the day to a nation that no longer knows or cares. The interrogation by the Christian child, Evangeline Kanagasooriam, was brief. But its illumination could not have been brighter.
“Who are you and why do you request entry?”

“I am Justin, a servant of Jesus Christ, and I come as one seeking the grace of God, to travel with you in his service together.”
It was redolent of the ancient Easter liturgy Quem quaeritis?, in which the inspiration of the gospel mission is encapsulated in a four-line question and answer. When you wade through the liturgical splendour and look past the trumpets, drums, robes and royalty, this is just Justin – a Christian pilgrim simply come to worship and love Jesus Christ with all his heart and soul, mind and strength. And he will travel with you in this journey; you will walk together.

This theme of ‘togetherness’ was the golden thread woven throughout the whole service. And where we are not yet quite together; where our communion is imperfect or non-existent, there was a hope, a plea for reconciliation. The Dean reminded us;
On this day we remember the anniversaries of the death of Benedict, Abbot of Monte Cassino and patron saint of Europe, whose Rule continues to influence the life of the Church, and Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, whose Book of Common Prayer shaped the worship of the Church of England.

 And then we had this juxtaposition:
The Collect for St Benedict
Eternal God,
who made Benedict a wise master in the school of your service and a guide to
many called into community to follow the rule of Christ:
grant that we may put your love before all else
and seek with joy the way of your commandments;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever
Amen

The Collect for Thomas Cranmer
Father of all mercies,
who through the work of your servant Thomas Cranmer
renewed the worship of your Church and through his death
revealed your strength in human weakness:
by your grace strengthen us to worship you in spirit and in
truth and so to come to the joys of your everlasting kingdom:
through Jesus Christ our Mediator and Advocate,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God now and for ever.
Amen
His Grace’s ashes were content to say a hearty ‘Amen’ to both collects, for together they are symbolic of true catholicity. It was not possible to see whether certain others could bring themselves to acknowledge His Grace’s ‘renewed’ worship, or say ‘Amen’ in acknowledgement of the price he paid for helping to reform the liturgy, theology and ecclesiology of the Church.

The Archbishop of York then affirmed:
The Church of England is part of the one, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church worshipping the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It professes the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds; which faith the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation. Led by the Holy Spirit, it has borne witness to Christian truth in its historic formularies, the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons. In the declaration you are about to make will you affirm your loyalty to this inheritance of faith as your inspiration and guidance under God in bringing the grace and truth of Christ to this generation and making him known to those in your care?
To which the Archbishop of Canterbury replied:
I, Justin Portal Welby, do so affirm, and accordingly declare my belief in the faith which is revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds and to which the historic formularies of the Church of England bear witness; and in public prayer and administration of the sacraments, I will use only the forms of service which are authorised or allowed by Canon.
Whatever creed you may believe, intone or recite, this is the essence of the Anglican Christian Faith, of which the Queen is Supreme Governor and Defender. Some of you may demur, but please do so with grace, tenderness and humility, for you, too, may be in error, at least partially. For now we see but in a mirror dimly: not until the Wedding Feast of the Lamb will we see face-to-face, and not until then will everything will be made perfectly known.

By signing the Ecumenical Covenant, Archbishop Justin pledged to work toward unity with other Christian denominations. Some may baulk at that, but it was the will of the Lord that His disciples be one. Wherever there is schism or division, it is the name of Jesus that is dragged through the mud.

It was moving to hear His Eminence Archbishop Gregorios of Thyateira and Great Britain address Archbishop Justin as ‘Dear brother in Christ’, and the Reverend Michael Heaney, Moderator of the Free Churches Group, affirm that it was Augustine, the first Archbishop, who brought the gospel to England ‘to renew the Church in this land’.

There was here a glimmer of a new ecumenical age of ARCIC dialogue and Churches Together. Archbishop Justin pledge himself ‘to strive for the full and visible unity of Christ’s Church in truth and love’.

His challenge – as it is for all church leaders – will be striving for unity while managing human diversity. But at least he makes no pretence at perfect harmony: his strategy is to reconcile man to man whilst avoiding the destructive inclinations of the human heart to crush opposition and stifle dissent. It is ‘Christ who reconciles us to God and breaks down the walls that divide us’.

In his sermon – prefaced ‘Commemoration of Thomas Cranmer, Feast of St Benedict’ – Archbishop Justin again emphasised his favoured themes of togetherness and reconciliation. “Fear imprisons us and stops us being fully human,” he observed. But ‘love liberates holy courage’. And, in the presence of David Cameron and Ed Miliband, he reminded the priests of secularity that:
For more than a thousand years this country has to one degree or another sought to recognise that Jesus is the Son of God; by the ordering of its society, by its laws, by its sense of community. Sometimes we have done better, sometimes worse. When we do better we make space for our own courage to be liberated, for God to act among us and for human beings to flourish. Slaves were freed, Factory Acts passed, and the NHS and social care established through Christ-liberated courage. The present challenges of environment and economy, of human development and global poverty, can only be faced with extraordinary courage.

…Today we may properly differ on the degrees of state and private responsibility in a healthy society. But if we sever our roots in Christ we abandon the stability which enables good decision making. There can be no final justice, or security, or love, or hope in our society if it is not finally based on rootedness in Christ. Jesus calls to us over the wind and storms, heed his words and we will have the courage to build society in stability.
And then he returned to the leitmotif of Benedict and Cranmer:
All the life of our diverse churches finds renewal and unity when we are reconciled afresh to God and so are able to reconcile others. A Christ-heeding life changes the church and a Christ-heeding church changes the world: St Benedict set out to create a school for prayer, and incidentally created a monastic order that saved European civilisation.

The more the Church is authentically heeding Jesus’ call, leaving its securities, speaking and acting clearly and taking risks, the more the Church suffers. Thomas Cranmer faced death with Christ-given courage, leaving a legacy of worship, of holding to the truth of the gospel, on which we still draw.
On which we still draw?

This doesn’t sound like an archbishop who will obligingly bow to the gods of this age or meekly roll over when Parliament asserts its immutable creed of uniformity. Transformation, renewal and reconciliation precede the confident declaration of the good news of Jesus Christ. You may not agree with every word Archbishop Justin utters or every pragmatic decision he takes in the service of the Church, but don’t ever judge the man’s heart or motives. For he has declared himself to be, like St Benedict, a man of prayer and contemplation; possessing the courage, like Archbishop Cranmer, to take risks in defence of the Truth.

He needs our prayers

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Enthronement of the Most Reverend Justin Welby - the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury


With a direct, unbroken lineage going right back to Augustine in AD 597, Archbishop Justin Welby is today enthroned/installed/inaugurated as the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury. His Grace's ashes will not only be celebrating his own Feast Day in the Church's Calendar (..that fateful day..) but will be reconstituting themselves at Canterbury Cathedral for this momentous and joyous event, which represents the ministerial culmination of a quite remarkable journey of an undoubtedly remarkable man.

There are not many bishops of the Church of England who may claim to have real-world experience - not only of big business and oil finance, but also of spreading the gospel in Burundi, Iraq and Nigeria, where he confronted competing war-lords and stared down the barrel of a gun. He twice phoned his wife to tell her that he was about to die.

Lambeth Palace explains some of today's proceedings:
First, the Archbishop will be installed on the Diocesan throne as the Bishop of the see of Canterbury, the oldest diocese in the English church. He will then be installed on the chair of St Augustine as Primate of All England – the ‘first bishop’ in the country. This latter enthronement has also come to respresent the Archbishop's inauguration as the spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

The ceremony will be attended by Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, the Prime Minister, and archbishops and bishops from around the world. Representatives of many other faiths will also be present.

Two seats

The notion of a ‘seat’ dominates the ceremony enthroning an Archbishop of Canterbury. The very word cathedral comes from the Latin cathedra, for the seat where a bishop would sit to teach the faith to the people of the diocese. Another word for diocese is See, from the Latin, sedes – seat or chair.

While a cathedral plays many roles, essentially it is the church where the bishop’s seat is – the particular church of which he is appointed bishop and pastor.

In this respect, the enthronement of the Archbishop of Canterbury has much in common with that of any bishop in any cathedral.

But what is especially important about this Thursday’s ceremony is the seat in question: the chair of St Augustine is the primatial seat of the Church of England – a primacy in the English church which has lasted since St Augustine came to preach in England at the orders of Pope St Gregory the Great in the 6th century, and has had significance almost from the beginning far beyond the shores of the British Isles.

Three knocks on the door

At 3pm on Thursday, while Archbishop Justin waits outside the cathedral’s west door, the Dean of Canterbury Cathedral, Robert Willis, will be inside reading out a letter from the Queen, Supreme Governor of the Church of England. This letter authorises the Dean and cathedral community representatives to go to the church’s west door to greet the Archbishop.

In the famous tradition, the Archbishop will then strike the door three times with his pastoral staff, and the Dean will open the door to greet him. The Archbishop will be led up to the nave altar, where the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, will ask him to swear an oath of faithfulness to the statutes of the Church of England and an oath of faithfulness to the Queen of England.

The Dean then presents the Archbishop with the ancient Canterbury Gospels, brought to England by St Augustine in 597, on which he will swear faithfulness.

The Archbishop is then enthroned on his seats, marking the core of the ceremony.

First he is led to the Diocesan throne and installed by the Archdeacon of Canterbury as Bishop of the See of Canterbury. He is then led to the chair of St Augustine where the Dean installs him as Primate of All England.

Having been installed, Archbishop reads the Gospel and preaches a sermon from St Augustine's chair.

The service will feature music chosen by Archbishop Justin, including hymns marking Passiontide and looking forward to Holy Week, which starts next week. It will also include an African song, and improvised organ music following the Archbishop’s sermon.

Lambeth Palace notes (and the Anglican Communion does not):
The date of the ceremony resonates in several ways: March 21st is the day when the church remembers the martyrdom of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1556. It is also the feast day of St. Benedict of Monte Cassino, a significant figure for both Canterbury Cathedral and Archbishop Justin himself, who is an oblate of the Order of Benedict.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Thousands complain about Comic Relief's 'Archbishop Rowan'



From Brother Ivo:

The BBC has received over two thousand complaints following its Red Nose Day sketch featuring Rowan Atkinson mocking the new Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby as an unbelieving trendy fool.

It was apparently written by Richard Curtis, which will disappoint His Grace who thinks well of him. Mr Curtis has a fair history, with his Vicar of Dibley, of presenting observational humour within an Anglican setting which nicely balanced our oddities with our virtues. We never object to that, for recognisable resemblance, as he ought to know only too well, is a key to successful satire. The better one likes, understands and respects a subject, the better the jokes. But on Red Nose Day, the humour ran flat with a trace of nastiness about it.

There have been many prior examples of good comedy arising out of an ecclesiastical setting for, truly, ‘all human life is there’.

There was the naivety of Derek Nimmo’s All Gas and Gaiters, the kindliness of Dermot Morgan’s Father Ted, and more recently Tom Hollander’s rather more gritty Rev, each of which has managed to engage, amuse, and tease whilst always respecting the real commitment and faith of those who give their lives to preaching the gospel, however imperfectly.

Rowan Atkinson’s latest offering was a parody of itself. It was dreadfully predictable and derivative, and that ought to be the basis for complaint in itself.

He served up the familiar old schtick of the trendy vicar circa 1963, and many of that vintage will have instantly recognised the famous sex education sketch of Alan Bennett, with an embarrassed school chaplain haplessly trying to befriend and enlighten the young school boy. The unlikely stooge was a juvenile actor by the name of John Sergeant. It was embarrassing to hear the age-old running gag of the vicar constantly making the same error, only this time with unfunny confusion of other fund-raisers instead of the boy’s name.

Rowan Atkinson reprised for the umpteenth time a tired routine and that might have worked had he and Curtis not tried to be ‘edgy’ with ‘Keep on praying – it doesn't work, but it's a good part of a getting-to-sleep routine if you've got insomnia’.

Now, the purpose of the evening was to keep folk in a good humour and move them towards generosity. So why throw out a gratuitous insult to the Archbishop and, indeed, to all people of faith?

There are many in this country who are less than convinced that foreign aid works.

There are, indeed, billions of dollars in Swiss bank accounts which might support that view, but do you not imagine that if a ‘comedian’ had thrown in the line ‘Keep on giving – we know it doesn’t work but it will make you feel better’ – that some research assistant would not have warned that it might just be a little counter-productive?

Nobody saw anything wrong with mocking the Archbishop and prayer because that is how most people at the BBC think everyone should think.

Already the BBC is trying to ignore how serious an insult that is: "Comic Relief night features seven hours of live television and is known for pushing at the boundaries of comedy alongside heartfelt appeal films,” said an anonymous BBC spokesperson.

Really? Watch the above video (it has been removed from BBC iPlayer) and ask yourself how much of a boundary has been pushed here. As far as Brother Ivo can see, there is nothing new, innovative or clever in it all.

Apparently actor Hugh Bonneville saw the point, quickly tweeting: ‘Had to go out after Rowan Atkinson’s “shagging” sketch taking the piss out of the CofE. Was there a funny one about Islam later on? #rnd.’

Of course, we all know that the BBC would not dream of ‘pushing boundaries’ with those who might push back. There is a name for such people: they are bullies, and that is how our national broadcaster has cast itself. It suits the narrative but there is an alternative that is more truthful and much more ‘cutting edge’ than anything these liberal ‘comedians’ could ever contrive.

When AIDS decimated Southern Africa, prayers were lifted to heaven, and they were answered in a massive response through those whom our trendy celebrities cannot bear to acknowledge.

The Roman Catholic Church responded with love, compassion, manpower and expertise. It is quite simply the largest deliverer of AIDS healthcare in Southern Africa. There are other creditable responses from the Protestant and Evangelical Churches to a degree that dwarfs the efforts of the Red Nose celebrity dilettantes. They trumpet their successes, yet, in truth, they do not hold a candle to the people of faith when it comes to the magnitude of AIDS relief.

The churches have been greatly assisted by another hate figure of the liberal Left.

PEPFAR is the US President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief and was established in 2001 as a unilateral effort by the United States to avoid the known bureaucratic, political grandstanding, waste, delays, and corruption associated with that grotesque parody of concerted action, the United Nations.

Its main driving force was the hated George W Bush, who saw that a massive response was needed and found time – whilst also fighting major wars – to commit to help the poor and the afflicted. Since then, billions of dollars have been given and millions of lives saved and transformed through a programme modeled upon the Ugandan ABC programme which had proved to be the most successful in reducing infections.

‘Abstinence, be faithful, use a condom’ (ABC) was adopted simply because it was proven to work.

Inevitably, the ‘Religious Right’ scorned it for its liberal distribution of condoms: Bono teased his friend George W for making the US Government the world’s largest purchaser of condoms. On the other side, the liberal Left objected to abstinence.

Ignoring both, the programme has got on with its work and even received the support of Pope Benedict XVI, who authorised the use of condoms for infection control in and outside of marriage.

How rarely do we hear these inconvenient truths from our celebrity cynics? It simply does not suit the liberal narrative to tell the whole story. Yet prayer really does work.

It was particularly sad to hear Rowan Atkinson presenting a lack of faith in an Archbishop whose life demonstrates anything but. We never see the likes of Mr Atkinson walking away from their cash cow, which is what Archbishop Justin did when he gave up a successful career in the oil industry to work for the Lord.

More impressively, we have recently learned of the Archbishop’s actions in Nigeria, following the example of Terry Waite before him, of stepping into the path of heavily-armed gang members who carried him blindfolded into the territory of local war-lords to conduct negotiations for the release of hostages. This is not the action of the faithless, prayer-less man implied by Rowan Atkinson.

When you contrast the truth of the man with the fatuous posturing of an overpaid clown, it does not reflect well on either Rowan Atkinson or his BBC apologists.

Prayer took Archbishop Justin to where he was needed, and prayer brought him safely home.

From the outset of his ministry, Pope Francis has called us to pray for him as he leads all people of faith along the paths of gospel Grace. We shall do so, and it is clearly the foundation of all that he does and all that he believes. There is a certain irony in being able to watch Pope Francis washing the feet of the AIDS victim, restoring dignity and giving hope, while the sniggering twerps of Comic Relief congratulate themselves on their annual smugfest.

Brother Ivo wonders how many homeless they invited into the Groucho Club that night.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Announcing OfBlog - the mother of all quangos


When David Cameron asked Lord Justice Leveson to investigate the phone-hacking outrage and other renegade sections of the press, it was certain to end with legislative proposals for state regulation. It is as natural for a judge to find solution in the statutory instrument as it is for an EU commissioner to advocate 'more Europe' when confronted by the 'xenophobic' forces of adversity. Professional deformation confines epistemology: people are restricted to what they know.   

We have yet to see the final wording of the Royal Charter, but we do know that Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband and Hugh Grant are all delighted. Invoking the spectre of Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister insisted that this does not amount to state regulation of the press. But Hacked Off would hardly be trumpeting victory if they had not got what they wanted - that is, regulatory powers underpinned by statute. Only the heir to Blair would try to sell a specific legislative amendment as a general underpinning of a non-statutory regulatory charter. This regulation may be obliquely established by Royal Charter rather than by an act of parliament, but the Queen is the State: Parliament effects the decree, and Parliament can (and will) amend it to suit itself, irrespective of some absurd 2/3-majority 'protection'.

When 2/3 of the House of Commons fail by just a few votes to amend (or abolish?) this Royal Charter, we must remind them of the scorn they heaped on the General Synod of the Church of England over women bishops. Why should amendments to a piddly press charter require a 2/3 majority when Magna Carta itself can be amended by a simple majority?

It beggars belief that an English prime minister - and a Conservative prime minister at that - could support proposals which will censor, inhibit or neuter investigative journalism. Not for 300 years have newspapers been 'licensed' by the state. Those which do not cooperate will face the possibility of draconian fines, such that their operations may become uninsurable.

Significantly, Lord Justice Leveson restricted his proposals to the print media. He was of the view that it 'operates very differently from blogs on the internet and other social media such as Twitter'. One may quibble with his ignorance of both the rate of decline of newspapers and the reach and influence of some blogs, but his proposal was clearly for a watchdog regime aimed at the press, enshrined in law: the internet was to be left unregulated.

But David Cameron's Royal Charter appears to extend the definition of 'publisher' to include online media:

This makes some sense: after all, some of the recent media scandals – like the Twitter slander/libel alleging that Lord McAlpine is/was a paedophile; or the breach of privacy legislation in the naming of Ryan Giggs; or the publication of topless photographs of the Duchess of Cambridge - have not involved print media organisations at all. It seemed naive to leave Blogger, Facebook and Twitter unregulated while imposing considerable constraints upon the 'significant news providers' - the press and its 'official' online presence.

Twitter may be too gossipy and trivial to regulate, but this Royal Charter effectively establishes OfBlog, and that is going to become a colossal quango bureaucracy. In short, if anyone should have a serious gripe against His Grace, they may henceforth complain to this new Regulator free of charge. If the Regulator finds against His Grace, he can forced to apologise and retract - which would be usual in any case of defamation. But under this Charter, His Grace is left to pay the costs of his accuser even if His Grace should win the case. This is not a Charter for justice, but a licence for the irritating, eccentric and vexatious. It is highly unlikely that His Grace would ever have investigated THIS or published THIS or THIS if OfBlog had possessed punitive powers and was a credible censorious option for ‘Dr’ Irene Bishop and Canon Peter Clark.

There is undoubtedly a House of Commons majority in favour of press regulation, and that is hardly surprising. The press hold our politicians to account: the chance to regulate their chief inquisitors and persecutors is an opportunity too good to miss. One might almost see it as revenge for the audacious journalism that 'caused' the expenses scandal, or the successful exposure of chronic moral and political hypocrisies which have led to some tragic downfalls.

But it is inconceivable that this non-statutory Charter will be whipped: the continuing existence of a free press ought at least to be determined by a free vote. And this will pitch the Whig against the Tory; it will divide the true conservative from the sham Conservative. In his evidence to Leveson, Michael Gove said:
I think the general case for free expression has to be restated in every generation, because we all collectively benefit from a feeling that we are and shouldn't be inhibited in stating our views on whatever platform is available to us on matters that engage us.

..by definition, free speech doesn't mean anything unless some people are going to be offended some of the time.

..I'm sure that there are cases where journalists and others will behave in ways which are deplorable. The question remains, however: what is the most effective means of ensuring that individuals do not behave in a deplorable fashion? It's often the case that individuals reach for regulation in order to deal with failures of character or morality, and sometimes that regulation is right and appropriate, but some of us believe that before the case for regulation is made, the case for liberty needs to be asserted as well.

..we should think carefully about the effects of regulation in the same way as a legislator, when any particular proposal is put before them to deal with a particular evil, thinks: is this legislation necessary or proportionate? Is it the right remedy for the particular problem that's been identified? And I'm unashamedly on the side of those who say that we should think very carefully before legislation and regulation because the cry "Something must be done" often leads to people doing something which isn't always wise.

..My instinct is, if we look over time at how we have reacted to other abuses and errors and crimes that have been identified, there has been a tendency - it hasn't applied in every case but there has been a tendency to meet that particular crisis or scandal or horror with an inquiry. That inquiry has come up with recommendations, some of those recommendations have been wise and thoughtful, others perhaps less so. But what has subsequently happened is that the regulation or the intervention which has flowed from that inquiry has then been gold-plated and applied in such a way as, in the terms that I used in my speech to the press gallery, to be a cure worse than the disease, and in my speech to the press gallery, I mentioned the way in which the vetting and barring scheme had grown and the way in which the Every Child Matters agenda had grown, and the way in which the Food Standards Agency had grown to interpret its brief in a particular way. Now, those were three examples where I believe - and it's perfectly open to others to disagree with me passionately, obviously - but where I believe that an unfortunate tendency arose, which is a belief that we could, you know, mitigate against the evil which is inherent in human nature by setting up bureaucratic bodies or enacting regulation.

..I have a strong - some might call it a bias, a prejudice, a predisposition to favour free expression, but by definition, one of the reasons that I favour free expression is that I believe that it is through public debate, the clash of ideas, that we can arrive at a better form of governing ourselves, a better method of helping the next generation and it's entirely possible - it's happening often enough - that I will be proven wrong in open debate and it may well be that the fears that I gave expression to in this speech prove to be phantoms.
Parliament urgently needs another John Stuart Mill to persuade the Commons of their folly, for the political pygmies who seek to regulate the press are devoid of any philosophical understanding of liberty. If this Royal Charter is enacted and Schedule 4 survives as drafted, it is difficult to see how His Grace could continue. The traumatic months of ASA harassment were bad enough: OfBlog, as Michael Gove notes, will 'grow' and become 'gold-plated'. It is likely to become an insufferable coercive hindrance - sufficient to effect termination.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Archbishop Chrysostomos: "Cyprus must as soon as possible leave the eurozone"


There is something eschatologically exotic about Greek Islands. St John the Apostle received his apocalyptic vision on Patmos. It warned of the 'Whore of Babylon' and the coming of 'the Beast', whilst exhorting endurance through persecution by instilling hope in the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Archbishop Chrysostomos of Paphos received his apocalyptic vision on Cyprus. It warned of the 'villainy of Europeans', whilst exhorting 'Cyprus must as soon as possible leave the eurozone'.

These revelations are separated by almost two millennia, but their prophetic themes are the same: the cosmic battle is still good versus evil, and God will irrupt into human history and judge the wicked. Laodicean attitudes are not acceptable: the proud, self-satisfied and 'lukewarm' must take drastic action if they are to be saved:
Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. (Rev 3:17f)
Archbishop Chrysostomos hasn't quite told Cypriots to go and buy gold that is 'tried in the fire', but he might as well have done. The euro gave them the illusion of being 'increased with goods', and having 'need of nothing'. But the Beast has left them 'wretched, and miserable, and poor'.

Only three months ago the Archbishop was reminding his flock that they 'belong to the great family of European nations and must therefore fight for the rights that all Europeans enjoy'. In the trauma of financial crisis, he socialised the problem, pleading that 'we are all obliged to take our share our responsibility'.

Not any more. Enough is enough. Archbishop Chrysostomos has discovered the Gospel of Thatcher, now preaching fervently about the virtues of privatisation. "Business competition leads to economic progress," he declares, fully persuaded that a programme of privatisation of public organisations should be rolled out as soon as possible, beginning with Cyprus Τelecommunications Authority.

But President Anastasiades prefers to raid the bank accounts of the thrifty, despite denying throughout the recent general election campaign that he would do anything of the sort. All account holders will lose 9.9 per cent of their deposits over €100,000, with a 6.75 per cent levy on smaller amounts. The indebted and profligate are to be spared this tax: there is no longer any virtue in saving. The objective is to raise €5.8bn to help fund another euro bailout. Bizarrely, in the absurd Mammon merry-go-round, bankrupt Greece is contributing €billions from its own bailout injection.

The euro project is devoid of all morality: there is no ethical perspective; no fiscal integrity; no framework of values to protect the rights of the common people. Cypriots are now prevented from accessing their own hard-earned savings, and all online transactions are prohibited. This is brutal. It is, quite literally, daylight robbery. But the ECBeast needs feeding, and its appetite is insatiable. Once it has consumed Greece and Cyprus, it will open its jaws on Spain, Italy and Portugal. If savings may legally be raided in Cyprus, why not elsewhere? The contagion is unrelenting; financial collapse inevitable.

Governments are urging caution; politicians are pleading for calm. They insist that the Greek island is 'exceptional' and the measures are 'unique’. It is a lie. If you can do this once, you can do it again. People’s savings are no longer secure in any eurozone bank.

Into the darkness of this trauma and chaos comes an apocalyptic vision of the future. It is positive, joyous and victorious, heralding complete reformation and a new world order. Archbishop Chrysostomos has called for people's deposits to be left intact and for his country to leave the eurozone. This heralds the second coming of the the Cypriot pound.

That is bold, prophetic, wise and welcome. Archbishop Chrysostomos is His Grace's kind of cleric.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Queen must quash Chris Bryant's anti-Anglican obsessions


He seems to want the entire British Constitution re-ordered to suit his own petty obsessions. Not content with hacking away at the Act of Settlement, or aggravating for equal 'gay marriage', or riding roughshod over the General Synod by demanding that Parliament impose women bishops upon the Church of England, Labour's Chris Bryant MP now wants to turn the historic Anglican Chapel of St Mary Undercroft, beneath the Palace of Westminster, into a multi-faith prayer room.

This would then permit the venue to bypass Anglican strictures and be used to conduct same-sex weddings.

So, a centuries-old Christian crypt - which stood beneath the Royal Chapel of St Stephen and dates back to 1135 (where His Grace was consecrated Archbishop) - is to be stripped of its crosses and Christian iconography in order that the odd gay MP can be joined in holy bi-patrimony (and lesbians in holy bi-matrimony). No doubt Christ Bryant would seek to remove a few rows of pews as well, just to make room for the prayer mats, and then re-plaster and paint the walls magnolia as symbol of 'secular neutrality', so that Muslim politicians (who have never complained) won't feel offended by the visions of painted saints and gilded idols

According to The Telegraph, the plans 'are being considered by senior parliamentary officials together with Helen Grant, the Equalities Minister.

This is quite astonishing, not least because 'the plans' are not for a here-today-gone-tomorrow Equalities Minister to propose, and neither are they for 'parliamentary officials' to consider, however senior. Like Westminster Abbey and certain other places of worship, the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft is a 'Royal Peculiar'; that is to say, its clergy are accountable not to the Bishop of London or to the Archbishop of Canterbury, but directly to the Monarch. It is, effectively, the Queen's private chapel. As Supreme Governor of the Church of England, it is inconceivable that she would agree to its re-designation as a multi-faith prayer room, not least because it would be a contravention of her Coronation Oath to defend the Protestant Reformed Religion. And the Palace of Westminster has many hundreds of rooms, any one of which might be used by non-Christian politicians for meditation or quiet contemplation without the need for a Bryant's zeal for the dissolution of a chapel.

It comes as no surprise to learn that Chris Bryant has sought (and been granted) the support of John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons, in his Cromwellian quest (Oliver Cromwell had the crypt whitewashed and used it to stable his horses). Apparently, the Speaker has asked Black Rod, Lt Gen David Leakey, who is responsible for the Chapel, to examine the proposals.

When he consults Buckingham Palace, the Queen is likely to respond politely in the negative, while really thinking 'Over my dead body'.

And that, no doubt, is what Chris Bryant and John Bercow are actually waiting for. It's just damned inconvenient to the aggressive secularists and multi-faith ecumenists having a Supreme Governor of the Church of England who speaks openly of the gospel of forgiveness, the uniqueness of Jesus the Saviour, and the love of God through Christ our Lord.

Her Majesty is fully aware of the significant position of the Church of England in our nation’s life. "The concept of our established Church is occasionally misunderstood and, I believe, commonly under-appreciated," she said last year. "Its role is not to defend Anglicanism to the exclusion of other religions. Instead, the Church has a duty to protect the free practice of all faiths in this country.

"It certainly provides an identity and spiritual dimension for its own many adherents. But also, gently and assuredly, the Church of England has created an environment for other faith communities and indeed people of no faith to live freely. Woven into the fabric of this country, the Church has helped to build a better society – more and more in active co-operation for the common good with those of other faiths."

Chris Bryant and John Bercow are simply deaf and blind to this spiritual reality.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Big Pharma is the NHS ugly sister


From Brother Ivo:

The Times' Sam Coates put his finger on it very succinctly when he tweeted this week: "The Department of Health press release on antibiotics chilling. Not often gvt release says something is 'catastrophic threat' in headline."

Brother Ivo may be especially sensitive to this problem having recently taken himself, coughing and wheezing, to his bed. But long before that, he had acquired an unfashionable sympathy for that much maligned industrial sector, Big Pharma.

We could debate which industries have proved the greatest benefactors to humankind, but few would disagree that the drugs industry would credibly make any rationally constructed short list. His Grace's erstwhile communicant Henry VIII would have willingly given away half his kingdom during his latter days in return for that for that which the lowliest subject takes for granted today, and, moreover, feels entitled to sue if the dosage should be less than perfectly titrated.

How extraordinary it is, therefore, that we are so swift to criticise and slow to praise such an important benefactor, and valuable industrial and research sector.

We need to take the advice of the Chief Medical Officer seriously, but unfortunately we tend to deceive ourselves as to how short the time frame is to ensure the next generations of antibiotics arrive on time. It is far too grave a situation to leave to chance. Were the problem limited to Brother Ivo's sniffles, it would be bearable, yet the success of the NHS, which we are constantly expected to eulogise, is underpinned by a lengthy and complex supply chain which conceives, develops, tests, refines and manufactures the drugs that make so much of the NHS viable. Effective infection control is the sine qua non of all modern medicine and surgery.

Big Pharma is the NHS ugly sister.

Nurses can neglect patients in their beds and still retain their reputation as ‘angels’, but the people behind the cures are anonymous techies and, worst of all, their successes are partly quantified by profits. They never receive our thanks, still less the flowers or chocolates. As for those deferring present gratification in favour of investing in the sector, what worthless souls they are, profiting from human misery.

The development of anti-microbial drugs is a colossal and expensive business. It needs a constant throughput of money and talent.

Plant materials are randomly gathered from the most far flung quarters of the world, and tested on cultures of the target bacteria/virus which are then minutely studied and recorded to identify potentially winning variations. The Human Genome will be consulted and molecules computer generated, so that processes can be understood and viable research leads can developed. Dosages and treatment delivery needs to be considered in multiple forms and once sufficient confidence has been established, the lengthy and expensive business of clinical trials and securing patents throughout the world has to be undertaken. The latter is the aspect which often offends those who have never thought about the problem in depth.

The number of drugs that make it successfully to market is tiny. It represents a triumph of hope over experience, not least because whatever skill judgment and technique is brought to bear, there remains a high degree of chance involved. Every non-viable drug represents a very expensive time-consuming and disappointing failure.

Yet here lies the oddity. For all this massive, chancy, expensive and vital development work, Big Pharma enjoys a limited exclusive patent period of just 20 years before all that effort is turned over into the public domain to be manufactured generically in Brazil, India or China - none of whom contributed a penny towards the development costs.

That is not 20 years of pure profit taking however. Pharmaceutical companies need to begin the protection some years before the product comes to market and one adverse reaction during clinical trials can cause delay and potentially prove a catastrophic blow to the financial viability of the product. A typical window for securing a return on investment is 8 -12 years.

The absurdity of this kind of dis-incentivising of scientific endeavour can be put into perspective with one simple illustration. The estate of the author of ‘50 Shades of Grey’ will enjoy copyright protection for 70 years after her death.

We appear to be more keen to incentivise the intellectual input involved in writing a female masturbatory fantasy than rewarding those who might save countless millions of lives.

We have heard the Government response. It is to ‘call upon’ the drug companies to put in more efforts. We need much more than that. The Chief Medical Officer warns: “Antimicrobial resistance is a ticking time-bomb not only for the UK but also for the world. We need to work with everyone to ensure the apocalyptic scenario of widespread antimicrobial resistance does not become a reality."

She asks that we place this threat in its proper place of priority alongside the threat of international terrorism.

The last new class of anti-biotic was discovered in 1987.

To her immense credit, Professor Dame Sally Davis is prepared to think the politically unpopular and call for better incentives for the pharmaceutical industry to develop new drugs. She knows that if we are to develop the drugs to maintain anti-microbial safety, the window for start-up is perilously small. If the major players cannot put the resources into this project within this period, it will not happen.

This is the time to advance on two separate but linked fronts. It will involve international agreement and that is notoriously slow so there is not a moment to be wasted.

We need to give the pharmaceutical companies a greater period of exclusivity for their work: if a labourer is worthy of his hire, then so are research scientists.

We should also consider legislating for a flexible period of exclusivity to assist the sufferers of rare conditions. Tragically, the development of treatments for such people is financially unviable within the current legislative framework. Yet if we were to afford the producers of such cures the same period of intellectual protection currently afforded to EL James, some hope may well appear on the horizon. It will not happen any other way.

Doubtless there will be those who think that none of this is necessary; the running dogs of capitalism will swiftly be eclipsed by the combined philanthropic scientific might of Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea. Brother Ivo will not hold his breath… which he struggles to do pro tem.

(Posted by Brother Ivo)

Friday, March 15, 2013

Red Nose Day - Richard Curtis deserves a peerage

His Grace has asked this before, but he will do so again: why is Richard Curtis not in the House of Lords?

The place is full of banalities and non-entities whose merit is highly questionable. His Grace does not agree much with Richard Curtis's politics, and thought his eco-jihad effort on behalf of the climate change lobby was repugnant. And, yes, the man has given us one or two dreadful films along with a few enchantingly mediocre ones.

But Mr Curtis also gave us Blackadder, Mr Bean and The Vicar of Dibley - television icons of our age. He is the creative mind and perpetual force behind Comic Relief, which has raised hundreds of millions for the world's poorest. One doesn't have to agree with how every penny is spent, and neither does one have to affirm every celebrity who participates: the sum total is good; Richard Curtis is a huge force for good.

Perhaps a seat in the Lords might stifle his creativity; it will certainly give him a platform to spout his personal politics. But that's not the point. He is one of Britain's great success stories: he merits a peerage.

Today is Red Nose Day. Article XII - Of Good Works:
Albeit that good works, which are the fruits of faith and follow after justification, cannot put away our sins and endure the severity of God's judgement, yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and do spring out necessarily of a true and lively faith, insomuch that by them a lively faith may be as evidently known as a tree discerned by the fruit.
May the lonely be comforted, the homeless housed, the starving fed, and the troubled find rest unto their souls.

Cranmer’s exhortation for the Blessed Feast Day of the Red Nose:
Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver (2Cor 9:7).

Thursday, March 14, 2013

What Pope Francis might mean for the Church of England


Journalists all over the world will have spent the night poring over the actions, writings and pronouncements of His Eminence Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio, SJ, the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires. Taking the name Pope Francis, he has sent a signal (or two) that his pontificate will focus on the missiological priorities of St Francis of Assisi and/or St Francis Xavier. The former is known for his humility and veneration of poverty; the latter for his intolerance of 'repulsive and grotesque' Hindu teachings and the need for Holy Inquisition against the 'Mohammedan Sect'.

But, unlike Benedict XVI, who dismissed the Church of England as a mere 'ecclesial community', Pope Francis appears altogether more latitudinal toward Anglicanism.

1) He is vigorously anti-clerical. He has condemned the refusal of holier-than-thou priests to baptise children born out of wedlock as 'hypocritical clericalism', 'pharisaical Gnosticism' and 'sacramental blackmail'.

After the haughty judgmentalism and self-righteous arrogance of certain Roman Catholics in response to yesterday's post on the Lord's Supper, one wonders what Pope Francis might say to them. He is manifestly opposed to the 'hijacking' of sacraments by those who deem themselves superior. He condemns the hypocrites and those who deflect from their own failings and graceless shortcomings by hiding beneath the shroud of clericalism. He is tolerant of imperfection and he understands fragility. Our communion may be imperfect, but he sets his face sternly against those who supposedly do not fulfil rigid doctrinal 'requirements'. Not only is such moral judgmentalism damaging to the Church, it is a distortion and corruption of Christ’s incarnation. By condemning those who emphasise legal strictures and the letter of the law, he skilfully refutes those Roman Catholics who reduce a sacrament to a doctrinal slogan to serve the interests of religious power. “Jesus did not preach his own politics: he accompanied others. The conversions he inspired took place precisely because of his willingness to accompany, which makes us all brothers and children and not members of an NGO or proselytes of some multinational company.”

2) In a spirit of ecumenism he permitted his Cathedral to host services led by Protestants, Muslims and Jews. He participates in common acts of worship with Protestants and is content to be blessed by them, perceptibly validating their beliefs. It is widely acknowledged that he is a Vatican II modernist; a progressive when it comes to the 'separated brethren'. He understands the need for an understanding of the Church as a communion of local Churches, each sharing a common faith but manifesting diversity in accordance with the mores and traditions of society.

3) The Anglican Bishop of Argentina, the Most Rev Greg Venables, has written that Pope Francis is a 'friend to Anglicans':
"..He is much more of a Christian, Christ centered and Spirit filled, than a mere churchman. He believes the Bible as it is written. I have been with him on many occasions and he always makes me sit next to him and invariably makes me take part and often do what he as Cardinal should have done. He is consistently humble and wise, outstandingly gifted yet a common man. He is no fool and speaks out very quietly yet clearly when necessary. He called me to have breakfast with him one morning and told me very clearly that the Ordinariate was quite unnecessary and that the church needs us as Anglicans. I consider this to be an inspired appointment not because he is a close and personal friend but because of who he is In Christ. Pray for him.”
4) If the Ordinariate is 'quite unnecessary', we will see no further emphasis upon it from the Roman Catholic Bishops in England and Wales (not that we were seeing much anyway). They didn't entirely ignore Pope Benedict's ecclesial innovation, but they were consistently obstructive, doubtless waiting for him to go and praying for a successor who would revive the spirit of ecumenism, mutual cooperation and respect. Perhaps, as Cardinal Walter Kasper might wish, we will see a return to a promotion of Christian unity based upon a Roman Catholic 'self-critical examination of conscience'.

5) We will see a drawing back from the arrogant assertion that the Roman Catholic Church is the 'one true church of Christ'. There will be a focus instead upon papal 'primacy' but an undoubted acknowledgment that the Church of England is a valid constituent part of the Catholic Church. Unlike Benedict XVI, he will at least consult his Anglican brothers (and sisters) before initiating further schemes to lure the disaffected into the Roman Catholic fold.

6) Both Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin Welby have considerable knowledge of and interest in the worlds of finance, banking and welfare. Both grasp the value of free markets, liberal economies and the production of wealth. But both also understand the need for an ethical framework which recognises the dignity and freedom of the individual. They are both concerned with excessive inequality and know of the dangers to society posed by unregulated banking and unrestrained finance. They are likely to work together toward a moral economic framework. As Pope Benedict XVI wrote in Caritas in Veritate: 'Every economic decision has a moral consequence'; 'The market is not, and must not become, the place where the strong subdue the weak.'

7) Expect a swift invitation from Pope Francis for Archbishop Justin to visit the Holy See for a coffee and a chat. And that's precisely what it will be: no pomp, no formality, no banquet, no flunkies. Just two princes of the Church talking and praying as equals, with just a hint of primus inter pares.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Habent Papam - His Holiness Pope Francis


Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum: Habemus Papam. Eminentissimum ac reverendissimum Dominum, Dominum Georgium Sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae Cardinalem Bergoglio. Qui sibi nomen imposuit Franciscum.
His Grace sends his warmest wishes to Roman Catholics all over the world on the election of the new successor of St Peter: the first member of the Society of Jesus (Jesuit); the first from South America; and the first from outside Europe in a millennium.

The former cardinal archbishop of Buenos Aires Jorge Mario Bergoglio becomes His Holiness Pope Francis. He will be the 266th Pope and Bishop of Rome.

Pope Francis is 76 years old. No doubt in about eight years time, rumours will begin to circulate about an imminent abdication.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Cardinal Tegle sings Petula Clark



His Grace had been wondering whom to favour in the election to succeed Pope Benedict XVI as the successor of St Peter. This video has clinched it for him. Any cardinal whose grasp of systematic theology is matched by the ability to play a gig at the London Palladium is going to be perfect for this media age of of mass entertainment.

However, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle isn't a patch on Petula Clark in this wonderful gem of a musical, Goodbye Mr Chips, whence 'You and I' originates:

Chris Huhne will convert to Roman Catholicism


 All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Some sin more; others fall further. Or at least that's how we console ourselves in our personal quests for salvation. "I'm not as bad as he is," we whisper to our souls. "I have served you like a slave, never once disobeying your commandments," pleaded the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son. Heaven is a place for the righteous and moderate sinners, but not him. Good God, not him.

Lord Taylor of Warwick gives Chris Huhne some sound advice as he begins his eight-month prison sentence today: "I do not know if Huhne is a religious man, but I would advise him to seek out the prison chaplaincy. I will always be grateful to the chaplains at Wandsworth and Standford Hill prisons, who showed me such kindness and prayer support."

Human beings have always been in quest of salvation - the making whole of what is a broken existence. This salvation is multifaceted, from personal healing to conserving the natural world. Chris Huhne has spent much of his professional life obsessed with the salvation of the natural world, battling against the evil of 'climate change'; now it is time for him to be authentic, or to seek authenticity. It is time for him to atone; to restore his relationship with his fellow men; to reconcile himself to God.

The profound experience of forgiveness yields divine acceptance: it is not merely the issuing of a legal pardon, as in much popular evangelistic preaching; it is a painful, relational process, which touches a person deeply. It may be an event, but for many it is a process. No-one is good enough; no-one deserves eternal life. It is God and God alone who liberates us from the curse of chaos; it is His own suffering through the crucified Christ which disturbs us, draws us, demands the response of laying down all the securities by which we live and all the achievements by which we justify ourselves and the status which gives us esteem. God 'puts down the mighty from their seats,' Mary sings. Salvation is not a contract: it is a traumatic transformation which re-orders the whole of our existence.

Today, Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce will be lonely, disorientated, perhaps even contemplating suicide. Some are crowing about this turn of affairs; a few will be praying for them. Huhne's failure is displayed for all to see; his fall is great indeed. Certainly, he has no-one to blame but himself, but who has not 'lied and lied again' in order to save face? Who has not schemed and deceived in order to advance a pesonal cause? Who has not hurt those they love in the selfish pursuit of duplicitous justification?

The people of God are commanded to love: we are commanded to be compassionate, kind and caring. His Grace will not be praying for Huhne's salvation, but neither will he be gloating over his downfall. At least Chris Huhne tried to do something to ameliorate the lives of the poor and push the borders of freedom. We may differ profoundly with his philosophy, but political action can be a vehicle through which the liberating and reconciling work of God can be made manifest in our world. Prison should not end Huhne's zeal; it could, like Saul to Paul, transform it into an inexhaustible life of good works.

Why Roman Catholicism? Well.. Myra Hindley, Oscar Wilde, Tony Blair.. Public revulsion and widespread shame seem to evoke the need for a 'great salvation' and sometimes a very public show of it. It is not some shady Protestant cult or soteriologically-ineffectual obscure sect: it calls itself Catholic and claims to hold the keys of heaven. The ritual of penance deals with the guilt; asceticism, self-flagellation - spiritual or literal - are perpetual demonstrations of piety. The focus on the crucifix prompts reflection of all those elements of imitatio Christi; disclosure, community and divine experience. Roman Catholicism brings order, pattern, sequence and meaning to the lost, lonely, destitute and directionless.

So, to those who think him an odious, ambition-crazed backstabber. For those who loathe his Olympian self-regard, his utterly unscrupulous lies, or his malign and slimy policy agenda. Please meditate upon the potential of his conversion; of the rejoicing in heaven as you turn to him, look into his eyes with love, and share the Peace of Christ with your brother who was lost and is now found.

Monday, March 11, 2013

UCL adopts sharia law for public debate, separating women from men



University College London is one of our great seats of learning and foremost among UK centres of research. Founded in 1826, UCL was the first university in England to be established on an entirely secular basis: students were admitted irrespective of their religion, and gender equality was a foundational statute.

So it is all the more surprising that a public debate was held on 9th March at which the audience was segregated by gender (ie women in the cheap seats at the back). It was hosted by the Islamic Education and Research Academy (iERA), and the topic was: ‘Islam or Atheism: Which Makes More Sense?’. It pitched atheist Professor Lawrence Krauss against Hamza Andreas Tzortzis (described variously as ‘a lecturer on Islam’ or an ‘Islamist extremist’). He agitates for a global caliphate and isn’t particularly disposed to Jews, gays, adulterous women or democracy. He has publicly denounced liberty:
“We as Muslims reject the idea of freedom of speech, and even the idea of freedom. We see under the Khilafa (caliphate), when people used to engage in a positive way, this idea of freedom was redundant, it was unnecessary, because the society understood under the education system of the Khilafa state, and under the political framework of Islam, that people must engage with each other in a positive and productive way to produce results, as the Qur’an says, to get to know one another.”
Many other iERA spokesmen take the view that the US conspired in the 1993 al-Qaeda attack on the World Trade Center; that ‘every Muslim should be a terrorist’; that homosexuals should be hanged and women who commit adultery should be stoned.

So, it is rather surprising that Hamza Andreas Tzortzis was invited to speak at UCL at all, let alone that they indulged his medieval mosque attitudes in separating the women from the men.

Apparently, Professor Krauss had objected to any such sharia segregation prior to the meeting. When he arrived and witnessed UCL security guards forcing people to change seats, he walked out, as seen in the video above. One of the attendees Dana Sondergaard wrote on her Facebook page:
Tonight I attended a debate a UCL on Islam and Atheism. After having been told the event would NOT be gender segregated, we arrived and were told that women were to sit in the back of the auditorium, while men and couples could file into the front. After watching 3 people be kicked out of the auditorium for not following this seating plan, Dr. Krauss bravely defended his beliefs of gender equality and informed event staff that he would not participate unless they removed the segregated seating. Needless to say, the staff got their shit together pretty quickly and the event (thankfully) continued. Props to Dr. Krauss for standing up for his beliefs, especially in such a biased environment!
This is not Saudi Arabia, though one begins to understand the concerns of those who talk of ‘Londonistan’. It is utterly shameful that UCL security staff helped to enforce this segregation, which must be contrary to the University’s own diversity and equality policies. To justify their actions, the security guards invoked the ‘terrorism’ clause: the three were ejected from their seats because they were deemed to constitute a ‘threat’.

The only threat they posed was to the sensitivities of Hamza Andreas Tzortzis.

Why do ‘human rights’ fly out of the window where Islam is concerned? Why does liberal democracy take a back seat in the toleration of sharia law? Why do universities and public institutions bend over backwards to avoid the charge of 'Islamophobia'?

The seating arrangements were made known well before this debate took place, so why was it left to just three men to sit with the women in protest? Where were the hordes of equality-loving LGBTers? Where were the ardent and principled feminists? Why were they not demanding seats at the front, with the men?

Any mention of this by the BBC? None at all. What outcry would have greeted a debate at which the audience was segregated black and white or gay and straight. But male and female is okay, because it is the will of Mohammed (pbuh).

PS
His Grace is reminded that UCL has form on this - see here and here.
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