Saturday, 10 January 2015

Freedom of Expression - Rights and Responsibilities

There have been two incidents over the last few days which have hit the headlines, one internationally and one nationally. The first is of course the terrible massacre of the editor and staff and others at the premises in Paris of the French ‘satirical’ magazine ‘Charlie Hebdo’, when they together with  two police officers on duty at the premises, and a visitor, were shot dead by two hooded assassins armed with  machine guns. The assassins then escaped in a stolen car, one having first ensured the death of one of the police officers lying wounded on the ground, by shooting him in the head. It has since transpired that the men were young men, Islamic fundamentalists who had apparently decided on this course of action  in retaliation  for the publication in the magazine of  blasphemous and offensive cartoons insulting Mohammed. Naturally this murderous incident has evoked world-wide condemnation, as indeed it should, however having seen examples of these ‘cartoons’, it is apparent that some are indeed blasphemous and some grossly offensive, verging on the obscene. In this and possibly other Countries, the public display and sale of such material would be against the law, in as much as it would be considered an incitement to racial and/or religious hatred. Once fondly regarded as the ‘eldest daughter’ of the Catholic Church, France has been a secular nation since 1789, the advent of the French Revolution, with legal and societal values based on ‘Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity’. In the wake of this recent terrible massacre much has been said and quoted in the media about the right to free speech, and the right of publishers to publish this type of material, and their intention to carry on doing so in spite of the murderous response that it has evoked. What seems to have been overlooked is that with rights comes responsibility, and it appears that  many voices today clamour for  rights but do not want the responsibility that goes with it. In the case of ‘Charlie Hebdo’, it seems that the publishers consider it a right  to publish literature which is  deliberately and grossly insulting to the religious sentiments of so many of its own citizens, knowing full well that it will offend and stir up religious and racial hatred. Power without moral responsibility is a recipe for disaster, and the tragic and terrible events in Paris are the result of evil provoking an even greater evil, with many blind to the evil in the cause seeing only the evil in the effect.

The second incident to have occurred involves a 26 year old professional footballer Ched Evans, who in 2012 at Caernarfon Crown Court, was convicted of rape,  and sentenced to a term of five years imprisonment. He has recently been released on parole and has declared his intention of resuming his footballing career; he was of international standard having represented Wales.  He first applied to be allowed to train with Sheffield United, a Championship side, and although initially his request received favourable consideration, the plan  was stymied by opposition from the Club’s commercial sponsors  and supporters, on the grounds that it would not be a good advertisement for the Club to be associated in any way with a convicted rapist.  He then applied to Oldham, another Championship side, to join them, and again initially the response was encouraging. However a campaign on the internet, raised 60,000 signatures opposing this, with two of the Club’s corporate sponsors threatening to remove their sponsorship with immediate effect. Again the main reason for this opposition appears to be that employing a man convicted of rape would reflect badly on the image of the Club and the sponsors.  It is important to remember that Evans had paid the penalty for his crime, and what he seeks is the opportunity to carry on in the job which he knows and for which he has been trained. Certainly the crime for which Evans was convicted was a serious one, but there are many sportsmen convicted of serious offences who have been able to continue their sporting occupation once their judicial debt had been paid. One of the main objections put forward is that Evans as a footballer might become a good role-model, but Evans as a convicted rapist would certainly not.
This thesis might look impressive on paper, but is the reality quite like this? Not many professional footballers achieve role-model status, particularly in the lower divisions. I suspect that any fame achieved is remarkably transient, depending primarily on goal-scoring ability and achievement, and is always subject to team performance, results, fitness, etc. Undoubtedly Evans would experience verbal abuse from some, particularly in the early period of  rehabilitation, and some might say that he deserves it, but if he is prepared to accept this there is every likelihood that in a relatively short time the vast majority of football supporters will judge him on his footballing abilities, not on anything else. I wonder how many of those who signed the on-line petition are supporters of Oldham Athletic, or how many are even football supporters?  I am reminded of Jesus’ words to those who brought the woman accused of adultery to Him, ‘Let those of you who have not sinned cast the first stone’. And we know from the Gospel account  that they all walked away, and Jesus said to the woman,‘They have not condemned thee, neither will I condemn thee. Go, and sin no more’. Evans has consistently denied his guilt in this case, and some would say ‘he would, wouldn’t he’. However he has issued an apology for the course of events, if not for the alleged offence. It seems ironic, cruelly so perhaps, that his case seems to have been targeted by a certain section of the community, blown up by the media, and earnestly and publicly pronounced-on by such ‘eminent’ political leaders as David Cameron and Ed Milliband – you would really think that they must surely have major political problems of their own to deal with, or is it a question of any publicity is better than none?
Evans himself describes the difficulties that he is encountering, as brought on by ‘mob rule’, and in the circumstances he seems to be right.  The power of the internet, which can be an influence for both good and bad, can also become  judge and jury, creating a dangerous precedent. Certain football club managers have spoken out on the need to give Evans a chance, notably Harry Redknapp of QPR and Steve Bruce of Hull City, both Premier League Clubs, and I suspect there are others who share their opinion. From the point of view of natural justice, Evans has served his punishment and should not be subject to a double-whammy. He has not asked for favours and will sink or swim as a professional footballer entirely on his own merit, but first he must be given the opportunity.

 Thoughts from St Alphonsus

‘Souls enamoured of God live always with a tranquil heart and in continual peace, because like the sunflower that always turns to the sun, they in all events and in all their actions seek always to live and act in the presence of God’

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

'Bab Ballads' by W.S.Gilbert - not all light and joy.

Sir William Schwenck Gilbert  (18 November 1836 – 29 May 1911) was an English dramatist, librettist, poet and illustrator best known for the fourteen comic operas  (known as the Savoy operas) produced in  collaboration with the composer Sir Arthur Sullivan. The most famous of these include H.M.S.Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance, and one of the most frequently performed works in the history of musical theatre, The Mikado. These, as well as several of the other Savoy operas, continue to be frequently performed in the English-speaking world and beyond by opera companies, repertory companies, schools and community theatre groups. Lines from these works have become part of the English language, such as "short, sharp, shock”, "What, never? Well, hardly ever!", and "Let the punishment fit the crime".
    Gilbert also wrote the Bab Ballads, an extensive collection of light verse accompanied by his own comical drawings. His creative output included over 75 plays and libretti, numerous stories, poems, lyrics and various other comic and serious pieces. His plays and realistic style of stage direction inspired other dramatists, including Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw. According to The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, Gilbert's "lyrical facility and his mastery of metre raised the poetical quality of comic opera to a position that it had never reached before and has not reached since". (Wikipedia)

William S Gilbert

The ‘Bab Ballads’ appeared originally in the columns of “Fun”, and were subsequently republished in two volumes viz. ‘The Bab Ballads’ and ‘More Bab Ballads’. The author, WS Gilbert, was not satisfied with the finished product, and after withdrawing certain Ballads which he felt were not up to standard, arranged for those remaining to be re-published in one volume.
     ‘At a Pantomine’ is taken from the revised volume ‘Fifty Bab Ballads’, which is prefaced by W.S.Gilbert, 24 The Boltons, South Kensington, and dated August 1876. The numerous caricatures illustrating the Ballads were drawn by Gilbert, and signed ‘Bab’, a childhood nick-name.

‘At a Pantomine’,    by A Bilious One.

An Actor sits in doubtful gloom
His stock-in-trade unfurled,
In a damp funereal dressing-room
In the Theatre Royal, World.
He comes to town at Christmas-time, 
And braves its icy breath,
To play in that favourite pantomime,
Harlequin Life and Death.

A hoary flowing wig his weird
Unearthly cranium caps,
He hangs a long benevolent beard
On a pair of empty chaps.

To smooth his ghastly features down
The actor’s art he cribs, -
A long and a flowing padded gown
Bedecks his rattling ribs.

He cries, “Go on – begin, begin!
Turn on the light of lime –
I’m dressed for jolly old Christmas, in
A favourite pantomime!”

The curtain’s up – the stage all black –
Time and the year nigh sped-
Time as an advertising quack –
The Old Year nearly dead.

The wand of Time is waved, and lo!
Revealed Old Christmas stands,
And little children chuckle and crow,
And laugh and clap their hands.

The cruel old scoundrel brightens up
At the death of the Olden Year,
And he waves a gorgeous golden cup,
And bids the world good cheer.

The little ones hail the festive King, -
No thought can make them sad.
Their laughter comes with a sounding ring,
They clap and crow like mad.

They only see in the humbug old
A holiday every year,
And handsome gifts, and joys untold,
And unaccustomed cheer.

The old ones, palsied, blear, and hoar,
Their breasts in anguish beat –
They’ve seen him seventy times before,
How well they know the cheat!

They’ve seen that ghastly pantomime,
They’ve felt its blighting breath,
They know that rollicking Christmas-time
Meant Cold and Want and Death, -

Starvation -  Poor Law Union fare –
And deadly cramps and chills,
And illness – illness everywhere,
And crime, and Christmas bills.

They know Old Christmas well, I ween,
Those men of ripened age;
They’ve often, often, often seen
That Actor off the stage!

They see in his gay rotundity
A clumsy stuffed-out dress –
They see in the cup he waves on high
A tinselled emptiness.

Those aged men so lean and wan,
They’ve seen it all before,
They know they’ll see the charlatan
But twice or three times more.

And so they bear with dance and song,
And crimson foil and green,
They wearily sit, and grimly long
For the Transformation Scene.


 Ack  ‘Fifty Bab Ballads’ by W S Gilbert
Although famous for his wit and light-hearted humour, Gilbert had a darker side to his character which I think is well illustrated by the above Ballad. He was a realist and was not afraid to express views which could be socially and politically unpalatable. He received his early education in France, and his later education at Kings College, London. In 1856 he joined the Civil Service employed as an Assistant Clerk in the Privy Council Office, remaining there for nearly four years, apparently hating the job. From 1859 to 1874 he joined the Militia – a military organisation formed for the defence of the realm, as a part-time volunteer, ending up with the rank of Captain. At the same time and for only a few months, he practised as a Barrister, after which his ability as a writer, reviewer, and illustrator, brought him increasing patronage. In 1863 he professionally produced his first play, and during the following six years he produced opera burlesques, farces, and pantomimes. From 1869 to 1875 he, with Thomas German Reed, was fully involved in theatrical reform, producing family entertainment and comedies 'suitable for young ladies', in contrast to the then current vogue in Victorian burlesque. In 1875 his operetta Trial by Jury was performed in London as a back-up to a major opera, and proved a great success. In 1877 the theatrical impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte founded the D’Oyly Carte Comedy Co., and during the next twelve years the Savoy Operas, comprising all of Gilbert’s major operettas, were performed to great acclaim, both national and international. In 1889 Gilbert was responsible for the building of the Garrick Theatre in London. His long standing professional relationship with the composer Arthur Sullivan, with whom the Savoy Operas had been so successfully created, deteriorated in the early 1890s. His operettas continued to flourish and grow in popularity, and whilst new works were few, Gilbert was fully occupied in directing and advising on new productions of the Savoy operas. He was appointed a Justice of the Peace, and in 1907 was knighted. He died in 1911 having suffered a heart attack whilst trying to rescue a young woman who had fallen into the lake adjoining his house.

Memorial to SW Gilbert
on Victoria Embankment,London.
by George Frampton 1914.
(photo ack. lonpicman GNU free documentation licence)


In contrast to the rather somewhat depressing effect of the above Ballad, I would like to finish on a rather lighter and brighter note with a short poem by Joyce Falkner. 

Christmas Poem

A Star for the Christ Baby's birthday,
The Moon for His Mother the Maid,
And the Sun for the light of God's mercy
As the new dawn disperses night's shade.

Today is the day of the children,
The feast of the wonder of birth,
Of the innocent, weak, and dependent
Brought forth to replenish the earth.

And how will our children be living
In the world we're now helping to plan?
Do we teach them not grabbing, but giving?
To praise God by caring for man?

Have we faith that these little ones, maybe,
By the Star and the Moon and the Sun
Will create in the name of that Baby
A world fairer, more kind than we've done.
                                                      Joyce Falkner 1979.

Christ is born! Give Him glory! Christ came from Heaven! Greet Him all!

****  ALLELUIA   ****

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

The Synod - clearing the cobwebs!

Just a few thoughts.......... 
(This post is reproduced from the Black Biretta blogsite - with acknowledgement and thanks.)

Synod Cynicism not necessary 

The Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas often said: Concede parum, nega frequenter, distingue semper (never affirm, seldom deny and always distinguish). This is prudential advice we can and must apply today as we digest what the Synod of Bishops is doing, what is claimed to being done and what will be done afterwards.

First of all, using the via negativa, a Synod is not an Ecumenical Council. Only an Ecumenical Council and/or an ex cathedra papal decree on faith and morals are considered Extraordinary Magisterium.

Synods are considered Ordinary Magisterium just as are papal encyclicals. Their teachings are infallible ONLY when they affirm a teaching on faith and morals that has been consistently and perennially taught by Holy Mother Church over the centuries.  Humanae Vitae and Ordinatio Sacerdotalis are ordinary magisterial documents which contain infallible teachings since they reiterate what the Church has always believed and held quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est (everywhere, always and by all).

That being said, the current Synod of Bishops, being an exercise of the ordinary magisterium, would only issue infallible teachings if those teachings were already what the Catholic Church has always taught. They cannot undo or create doctrines. Non-infallible statements would fall into the category of non-definitive, theological speculations and pastoral prudential judgments.

                                                                        Pope Benedict XVI
When Pope Benedict XVI was still Cardinal Ratzinger and Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) he clarified that synods are by their nature (defacto) advisory and consultative. They are not synonymous with Ecumenical Councils presided over by the Bishop of Rome. Synods are not parliaments, either. They are opportunities for open discussions and sharing of opinions but truth is not defined nor determined by majority rules even if it among successors of the apostles.  (Questions about the Structure and Task of the Synod of Bishops’, in Joseph Ratzinger, Church, Ecumenism, Politics: New Essays in Ecclesiology. New York: Crossroad, 1988)

Hence, Synodal decrees do not possess the same magisterial authority as do statements from an Ecumenical Council or from formal Papal decrees, either. No need to worry that any doctrines or dogmas are in jeopardy no matter what any particular cardinal or bishop says.

                               Resurrection of Christ - Gerard Seghers (1620)
When you read the actual relatio of the Synod as opposed to what the secular press claims the episcopal body said, you see a more than subtle difference. While discussions and dialogues have spanned the gamut of theological opinions (from archconservative traditional to ultra-liberal progressive) most of what has been decided (to be suggested to the Roman Pontiff) has been PASTORAL RESPONSES instead of doctrinal and moral teachings.

The Synod is NOT asking the Holy Father to permit cohabitation, divorce and remarriage without annulment nor for same-sex unions. What it is suggesting is that a pastoral approach be used to encourage people in these relationships to repair their irregular and sinful situations while at the same time providing spiritual encouragement for them to persevere in that journey. In other words, just as we often have divorced and invalidly married couples attend Mass and register in parishes, likewise, we have cohabitating couples do the same. If a homosexual couple were to register and attend a local parish, they would be under the same moral and doctrinal norms as everyone else. 

The sacraments, especially Holy Eucharist and Matrimony are reserved to those who are canonically free to receive them. It is not a denial of Holy Communion, rather a postponement until such time as the individual person and couple are in full communion with all the Catholic Church’s moral and doctrinal teachings and disciplines. Persons in such circumstances, though, deserve mercy and attention whenever and wherever possible. We should be approachable for counsel and advice without any fear of altering Catholic faith and morals.

Pastoral responses are precisely that. They are not a denial nor dilution of dogma. They are medicinal, remedial and therapeutic ways to assist people who have made imprudent or even immoral judgments have a conversion of heart. Just as Our Divine Lord never condoned sin, He likewise loved the sinner. His love was Divine Mercy. That also entailed a call to conversion: “go and sin no more.”

The Synod statements found online at the Vatican are significantly different from what most of secular press claim has been said and worse yet, what is being officially taught. They are not magisterial decrees per se.  Homosexual marriage and homosexual activity, pre-marital and extra-marital sex, divorce and remarriage without annulment are NOT being tolerated nor approved. The pastoral approach, however, to evangelizing and ministering to these folks, is what is being contemplated. Not carte blanche but something practical and achievable.

                        Image of Jesus, Divine Mercy, with Sister Faustina

Streamlining the annulment process by eliminating or circumventing the automatic appeal to the court of higher instance is a prudential suggestion but one that is not necessarily prudent. No one wants to return to the situation where lower tribunals granted decrees of nullity only to have a higher court overrule them. Instead of emphasizing the end of the process we need to examine the beginning instead.

A better strategy is to BETTER PREPARE couples for Holy Matrimony.  Twelve months Pre-Cana is only a starting point. Mentoring with couples in the parish who have a valid and healthy marital relationship is also beneficial. Emphasizing the marriage above and beyond the ceremony is also needed. Too many weddings are elaborately planned but the lifelong covenant of marriage is placed on the back burner.  Recent studies have shown a phenomenon where most married couples who split up do so before the fourth or fifth year of marriage. Providing accessible, affordable and practical counseling is a goal every diocese should embrace.

There will always be marginalized, lukewarm and part-time Catholics who attend Mass occasionally or infrequently, who may be in an invalid marriage or living together. Persons with same-sex attraction may have succumbed to the invalid civil union and civil marriage recourse. Pastorally seeing and treating all of them as children of God and as brothers and sisters in Christ in need of moral and spiritual guidance is what the Church is about. Not denying or watering down the faith, but with mercy, encouraging them to amend their lives and rectify their relationships.

Christ and the Woman taken in Adultery - Peter Bruguel the Younger c.1600

The Synod is nothing to fear nor is it something to worry about. Suggestions will be made after discussions have ended. Implementation will be at the discretion of the Pope and how he responds is his prerogative. Prudential judgments are not doctrine or morality but the fullness of authority resides with the Bishop of Rome. We Catholics believe the Holy Spirit will prevent any false teaching to ever be imposed upon the faithful. Only Sacred Scripture has the guarantee of divine inspiration. Human beings, even those who shepherd the church, are not perfect and some can even be influenced by politics and other factors. Synods do not demand an assent of faith nor do they require complete obedience. They do deserve respect and consideration, however, and this can only be done when we the faithful read the actual documents and keep them in their proper context alongside all that has already been formally taught and held.

(Tuesday October 14, 2014.  Posted at 12.07p.m. by Rev Dr John Trigilio) - link below

Synod Cynicism not necessary

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