Monthly Archives: February 2014

The consequences of releasing Mr Downey

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The collapse of the trial of the man accused of the Hyde Park bombing is both serious and potentially dangerous to the stability of Northern Ireland.

Historic wrongs were done on both sides and bringing the communities into greater trust and practical co-operation is an ongoing but fragile process, which unexpected debacles like this do nothing to assist.

The problem operates at multiple levels and yet again we return to a concept that appears to be becoming the theme of Brother Ivo’s blog. In a word “integrity”.

Lord Trimble is a man who was closely involved in the peace negotiations from the loyalist side. He claims that the policy behind the notorious letter allegedly sent in error to Mr John Downey,  indemnifying him against prosecution, was never a part of the political Ulster peace settlement. He is saying that even if it was validly sent by Government, those who authorised it, did so without the knowledge or approval of those representing the loyalist community.

Brother Ivo has no basis to doubt Mr Trimble’s integrity on this account.

It is currently unclear if the letter was intra vires or ultra vires the competency of the Westminster Government and that needs to be clarified early. MP’s must ask searching and careful questions.

Plainly however the letter was sent and had a direct legal effect and political consequence.

The public is entitled to know if this type letter was part of an agreement  and if so, who were the parties to that aspect of agreement. Were those parties limited to the negotiating teams, the Government of the day, the Civil Servants, the Republican negotiators? Specifically, were any stakeholders in the peace process excluded from knowledge of the agreement, and/or the detailed terms thereof?

We know that this was a complex and sensitive negotiation and we still need to to tread carefully. We also need to ensure that we do not blunder into crisis by accident.

If such letters were part of the settlement, then those who received a proper and lawful indemnity should have the promise honoured. It may be uncomfortable, but sometimes historical amnesia is necessary.

Let us remember that despite horrendous behaviour by troops under his command, the Japanese Emperor was given a State visit to these shores in 1971. That was no less offensive to the former war prisoners of the Japanese that the sight of Mr Downey casually strolling away from the Old Bailey.

Yet that that is not an end to the matters.

If a line is drawn to benefit Republicans there can be no justification for loyalist paramilitaries and British Servicemen to be treated differently. Brother Ivo reminds himself that he is talking about crime on all sides; if he is advocating pragmatism it will hurt victims but sometimes one reluctantly chooses to act against formal Justice. If so we must do it openly regretfully and accept the inevitable justified criticism. That is the essence of integrity – taking the consequences for one’s actions.

There is wisdom in the Book of Common Prayer confession of wrongdoing and sin ; ” we should not dissemble nor cloke them before the face of Almighty God our heavenly Father; but confess them with an humble, lowly, penitent, and obedient heart; to the end that we may obtain forgiveness of the same, by his infinite goodness and mercy.”

Let our politicians read mark and inwardly digest before they speak of these things.

Mr Trimble may be right that trying to overturn the Judge’s decision in this case is more trouble than it is worth.  We are a country that respects the rule of law and bad cases do not make good law. Mr Downey may be the unworthy lucky recipient of bad administration or shabby politics. So be it. There is however no reason why everyone in receipt of such a letter needs to profit from it.

The precise nature of that bad administration or political decision should be examined in detail.

Are we talking clerical error, computer glitch, poorly applied judgement or a secret political agreement?

There is no point in debating the problem until the parameters of the problem have been evidenced and made available. Brother Ivo and others fear that there may have been a collusive deal which kept its details from the loyalist negotiators but it would be irresponsible to build a judgement, still less a campaign, upon premature speculation.

It is right to put that concern into the public discussion however, as a marker: that issue needs to be addressed in Government explanations. If our politicians or Civil Servants acted improperly we can and should hold them to account, that is the sine qua non of a functional democracy. It is as offensive for them to go unpunished as it is for an IRA terrorist to avoid a trial of the evidence.

The public mood is mainly directed to the IRA criminals, and there is no reason why the Government cannot and should not redress the problem. It need not break the peace process.

Mr Downey relied upon a well established principle of estoppel. He had received a promise of indemnity and acted to his detriment in reliance of it. Not everyone who received that letter has changed their actions upon such reliance.

The Government can and should write to the other recipients to make clear the error and to advise them not to rely upon that promise. Should the recipient later come before the jurisdiction of our Courts, the onus of proof will lie on the accused to prove a post receipt detriment, and that may not be as easy for them as for Mr Downey.

It is hard to see that Republicans could object to that with any integrity. If it is within the agreement then prove it and it shall be honoured .If it is an error and their people have not acted to their detriment, then the withdrawal will have left them in no worse position.

There has been progress in Ulster. We must not throw the baby out with the bath water but neither do we have to completely affront our sense of Justice by simply letting everyone involved in this sorry story  escape scrutiny.

Wrongdoing should have consequences whether it be by incompetent administrator, devious politician or terrorist murderer.  Mr Downey may be lucky; it is no basis upon which to build a precedent for everyone else involved in this sorry business.

Ms Harman, let me help you – “Being human isn’t easy”.

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As Harriet Harman continues to try to evade a simple admission of past misjudgement, Brother Ivo would like to be be fair and charitable, and so thought it might be worth offering a reminder to anyone commenting on the controversy that sometimes, we can all be a little harsh on our younger selves.

Brother Ivo has made more than his fair share of bad decisions both politically, professionally, and personally and is often comforted by two wise observations. 

Søren Kierkegaard said that  ‘Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.’, and an old friend of Brother Ivo, novelist Adam Zameenzad once counselled him that “Being human isn’t easy”.

Ms Harman might do well to reflect upon these remarks as she looks back across the  years to when she acted as a legal officer to the National Council for Civil Liberties during the time of its injudicious association with the PIE organisation.

One suspects that somewhere within the process of “reputation management” ( a modern contrivance of questionable moral value)  she has had the odd moment of panic tinged with regret as she asked herself ” What on earth was I thinking?”

Admitting it is another problem altogether but confession truly is good for the soul.

We all  judge our  past errors from a position of hindsight  and experience; we know that we were not bad people then, and so we want to deny the very existence of that which plainly troubles us today.

In few fields will this be more challenging than  that of child protection which has its full measure of regretted past opinion. We arrived where we are via that past however, and many of todays good outcomes will have been built upon hard lessons learnt from past stupidity.

Just as doctors once believed that regularly bleeding their patient was always a good thing, police officers once justified “fitting up” a known villain, and teachers caned children who were slow to learn to read, so Child Protection has its own sorry past which we need to acknowledge.

There were many attitudes, excuses and practices that had their place in the Judicial system of the past which make us decidedly uncomfortable today.

“All children lie”.

” She wanted me to do it”

” It was a one-off after my girlfriend left/ I had too much to drink”.

Her mother made her say this because she hates me”.

“She’s jealous of me being her mother’s boyfriend”

These were standard attitudes and excuses routinely offered and accepted 30 years ago when these matters came ( rarely ) to Court.

Children were allowed to be bullied by be-wigged Counsel in open Court.

“Breaking the complainant” was perceived as a fair defence tactic; accusations of mendacious lying for a trivial reward were proffered and because the idea of sexual gratification via an infant was so far removed from the ordinary contemplation of  the average jury member, getting the jury to convict to the requisite standard “beyond reasonable doubt” was very hard indeed.

It still is, especially where well known public figures are concerned. We hate to think the unthinkable – which is how the abuser learns to deceive and builds his repertoire of threat and manipulation. Victims are told ” no one will believe you” and many found/find this to be true.

The sentences for such behaviour were surprisingly low, and the help available virtually non existent. Managing and modifying pedophile behaviour is time and resource consuming. Even today it is not our highest priority, not least because such people are not where we want to spend our money.

Not all the injustices were one way.

We once had the standard format interview which presented  undressed “anatomically correct” dolls to a bored or bemused child, confined in a room with a total stranger. It does not take long before the child fits them together in an “inappropriate”  way ( think Lego) . It took some years before the dangers of such interviewing techniques became appreciated.

Then we had the imported fashion for “Ritual Satanic Abuse” where every Council Estate in the Kingdom was assumed to be an extended set for the Exorcist.

Next there was  was Munchausen By Proxy “syndrome” – until we realised that a syndrome is just a description of facts and behaviours and no illness at all.

In short,  the last thirty years has been a steep learning curve in the child protection field and within that field, a small but highly motivated core of paedophiles has run rings round those trying to catch up with how they truly operate.

For most of us, collecting 10,000 photographs of a favourite actor would be considered mildly eccentric. Collecting half a million images of children being abused, and often brutally tortured, is literally inconceivable. We are talking depravity of the highest order in some of these cases, and for too long we were just too nice to think anyone could want to do such things.

So when Ms Harman’s NCCL was approached by pleasant articulate men who presented themselves as victims for loving a 15 year old boy, it is very easy to see how things went wrong. It was not that long ago that you could be imprisoned for consensual adult gay sex. The under age version was easily presentable as just another arbitrary restriction of a prejudiced State tied to a backwards looking Church view. In radical circles, the traditional was always the enemy even when it was right.

Of course the reality of PIE and its members was much much more depraved; there is a reason we call it the slippery slope, but that is not always appreciated by the advocate of the underdog, who often took such special pleading at face value. Paedophiles routinely play the victim.

Yet anyone who has observed the evolution of child protection at close quarters will know that myriad mistakes and ill judgements occurred over the years until we gradually found our way back to a position that is greatly discordant with the trendy ” if it feels good do it” attitudes of the late 60’s and 70’s.

Child protection experience is a very good way to get a modern head around the concept of original sin. The capacity of humans , male and female, to abuse the innocent  and the vulnerable  for their own gratification knows no bounds. It was however, deeply unfashionable to say that in the days of flower power or radical idealism when Ms Harman was on the side of those shaking off Victorian values.

Brother Ivo hopes that she will look back and be able to acknowledge that she  along with many of us of that era, allowed our idealism, our niceness and even our naivety to cloud our critical faculties. She was not alone in getting it wrong, indeed nobody made all the right calls all of the time in this most difficult of disciplines.

Denis Healey once advised that when you are in a hole – stop digging. This is good advice for Ms Harman.

She should stop digging and face up to the fact that she and everyone else in the field seriously under estimated the nature of the paedophile threat to our children. Unravelling what was going on was really hard and took time. Let’s not waste any time suggesting that anyone understood then what we understand today. We should all look back on how we got these things wrong and be ashamed – not “regretful”-  ashamed.

Brother Ivo is trying to set a good example by identifying some of the common errors into which he knows he and many have fallen.

It is no bad thing to prove that one has learnt by experience. There is shame however in treating others as fools when the historical record of mistake is so clear.

NCCL and its officers got this wrong; Ms Harman should acknowledge the fact and drop the pretence of being wise ahead of her time.

When Counselling those who have done serious wrong, Brother Ivo has occasionally employed his theological background to good effect.

Often those in error seek Justice; he usually advises that they would be better off asking for Mercy.

It is old fashioned, but it’s none the worse for that.

If Ms Harman is honest about the failings of all of us in the past, Brother Ivo will defend her in that integrity, but whilst she maintains the stance of evasion hiding behind the carefully calculated PR language of “regret”  he is unable to do so even as he watches her suffer.

 

Putti is in the eye of the beholder

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One suspects that the Bishops of the Anglican Church will be slow to join the debate about whether the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party ought to be offering an apology for her tenuous association with the Paedophile Information Exchange via her NCCL employment in the 1970’s.

This may be an error.

Having joined the party political debate over the implementation of Welfare Reform policy via a letter to the decidedly Labour supporting Daily Mirror, the Bishops could perfectly well justify an intervention along the lines that politicians who are kean to identify the specks in their opponents eyes, should first remove the beams in their own.

Brother Ivo need not labour the point.

It is not offensively party political to remind those in the public eye that there is an integrity issue within this story, and if the Bishops can pass comment on complex policy, how much easier and appropriate is it to reassert primary principles using Christ’s own words?

The party of Ms Harman, her husband Mr Dromey, and their friend Patricia Hewitt has never shied from repeatedly calling upon Andrew Mitchell to apologise for a probably false allegation that he accused police officers of being “plebs”, just as they hounded Conservative Aiden Burley to stand down from Parliament over an imprudent decision to introduce a Nazi uniform into a stag party weekend. Both Prince Harry and Ed Balls have made the same mistake and survived in the public esteem, so we do seem to have a public lack of clarity about such matters.

Perhaps the Bishops could help sort that confusion out?

Of course one could put one’s tongue in cheek and suggest that the Bishops fear to engage with this issue because of our own tainted history on child protection. Perhaps they fear that Ms Harman would accuse them of hypocrisy?

Miss Harman did however, once offer some support for Churches within her former role.

There does need to be common sense about images and rather sensibly she campaigned to prevent parents from being prosecuted for taking pictures of their babies in the bath. She probably thereby saved us from subsequent prosecution by the politically correct, for is not Church Art is awash with naked little cherubs which adorn Churches as part of the symbolism of innocence.?

Putti is indeed in the eye of the beholder.

Yet the entanglement of the NCCL with PIE was darker, and although Ms Harman may have joined the organisation after PIE affiliated to it, her subsequent representations to Government on matters of legal reform did offer a measure of protection to paedophiles even if it were inadvertent.

Specifically, she appears to have sought to repeal the law against incest, which can be a useful offence  with which to prosecute the abusive. She also sought to make certain prosecutions contingent upon the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions, thereby raising the threshold at which cases would be brought by removing discretion from local prosecutors. Such procedural changes do matter, and PIE would have been cheered by such interventions.

Having heard Miss Harman going on the offensive against the Daily Mail last night on the Newsnight programme, linking PIE’s activities to that newspaper’s publication of photographs of girls in bikinis, it appears to Brother Ivo that she has compounded the accusation of lack of judgement.

She cannot deflect legitimate questions in this manner.

Those are not illegal images. They are photographs of young adults who consented to them being taken. They are no more exploitative or offensive than many other images one might find within our churches. The image of young woman or child can be beautiful to behold without being tainted by abuse or malign intent. Ms Harman herself asserted as much during those NCCL years.

Her attempt to deflect criticism by attacking the Daily Mail is misjudged in substance as well as being unwise tactically, not least because the Mail is not alone in questioning her judgement in these matters. The Guardian,the Daily Mirror, and the Daily Telegraph also see the point which continues to elude Ms Harman.

If the Daily Mail accepted an advertisement from a modern day PIE or if the Conservatives or UKIP allowed them a stall at their party conferences, would not Ms  Harman be persistent and shrill in her condemnation? Can she therefore truly complain that others ask her to acknowledge that her libertarian instincts may once have caused her to be less alert than she would now be?

In short what is the big deal about saying one made a mistake 30 years ago? Why the careful and persistent refusal to acknowledge error?

Nobody thinks that with their minds directed to the issue today, with our knowledge of what paedophilia is, and how it is cunningly practiced, that Ms Harman, Mr Dromey, and Ms Hewwitt would have any truck with it whatsoever. That is not the problem.

First there is a separate question of whether PIE secured public funding from the then Labour Government for its activities: if so, an NCCL association may have been part of building of a respectable front of the organisation. This is an uncomfortable next step in the inquiry and one that politicians may seek to close off early.

Second, during the Sexual Revolution of the 1960’s enthusiasts mirrored Wordsworth’s cry about the French Revolution ” Bliss was it in that Dawn to be alive”.

Just as that political revolution had a dark underside to its legitimate critique of the status quo,  so we are finding out that the sexual revolution was not as innocent as we first thought. There was much about the repressed sexuality of our forebears that needed a healthy readjustment but some dark motives and tragic outcomes also emerged from those heady days.

The mature response is to acknowledge that fact.

Part of the problem that paedophiles present is that they are devious, plausible, persuasive and adept at presenting themselves as victims. Brother Ivo has no difficulty in accepting and understanding that in those heady days, when we had nowhere near the understanding of how these people work, it was possible for them to attach themselves to a campaigning group that challenged the old inhibitions and some prejudices, not least against homosexuals. There is nothing uniquely shocking if they conned three NCCL officers -they have conned enough Bishops.

The confusion of paedophilia and homosexuality did and does occur. It is discomforting for many well meaning folk  to acknowledge that in arguing for gay rights they may have inadvertently assisted the paedophile to claim victimhood for his/her attachment to the young. but plainly that happened and some of our senior politicians failed to see the wood for the trees.

That should not perhaps be a hanging offence but that is not the end of the matter.

The failure to grasp the obvious point, is a character flaw in a serious politician and this will harm those accused more than the original accusation.

Did not the Watergate or Monica Lewinski scandals teach anyone that it is the obfuscation and the cover up that does the most damage? Brother Ivo would have expected greater sophistication.

So why is the error being compounded?

Recently Brother Ivo declared “We are the insurgents now” as he pointed out that the radicals of social change now have an ascendancy and a record by which they may be judged. That will not come as good news to those who overthrew traditional Christian teaching to make this Brave New World.

The Social Radicals are no more comfortable acknowledging the un-intended consequences of their ideals and institutional inadequacies than we in the Church; we have had to learn to deal with it. The architects of the Radical sexual revolution are just beginning to realise that they now have similar accounts to render.

Casting those stones does not look as easy and attractive now does it?

The case for supporting voter recall of MPs

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Zac Goldsmith, the determined and vociferous member of Parliament for Richmond, has acquired a reputation for independent thought as a result of his willingness to speak out for his principles and his electorate. His current, and perhaps most important initiative is to introduce the statutory right of voters to recall their Member of Parliament if s/he is failing in their duty towards those who elected them.

It is not as radical as it may first appear, and is a feature of Constitutional settlements in several US States and countries as diverse as South Korea, Canada, Swizerland and Venezuela. Where it has been established, it it is nowhere near as common or destabilising as one might assume. Representatives both win and lose such contests, for the electorate are more mature and fair than many give them credit for.

Mr Goldsmith is angry with his own party machine and their Liberal Democrat partners because despite each agreeing to its introduction in the Coalition agreement, they have reneged on the commitment. As a result, he is promoting a petition which you may sign here

In particular he is contemptuous that the proposal that was under consideration by the party oligarchs placed the initiative for unseating a sitting MP with the party whips rather than the voters in the Constituency. This may not leap from the page as outrageous, but it makes a huge difference.

The one empowers the party machine to initiate a desolation process to threaten  the independently minded MP, the other empowers the voters to recall MP’s who do not hold local surgeries, prioritise outside interests, cross the floor, or otherwise break the trust of those to whom they are supposed to be accountable

To be adopted as the Parliamentary candidate for one of the major parties is, for 70% of MPs, the equivalent of receiving one of Willie Wonker’s golden tickets; it is a job for life in the chocolate factory of Westminster.

A good salary followed by a gold plated pension scheme beyond the expectation of most of their constituents, is only the start of the journey. The world of media, book deals, reality television, foreign travel, celebrity friends soon follows,  and for some, like Neil and Glenys Kinnock, the destination ends in Brussels with additional pensions of £15k per month, even if the list of your contributions to public life might prove to be full of winning answers on the quiz show Pointless.

There is much about Brother Ivo that makes him an old fashioned constitutionalist, and when he advocates the value of “Parliamentary Privilege”, he will be using the term in its legal sense and drawing upon an appreciation of centuries of struggle to keep the people’s representatives free to go about the people’s business. He dislikes the idea of parliamentary privilege as the opportunity to cap a political career of party servility with a seat in the seemingly ever expanding House of Lords.

That used to be the place for the King’s lazy bastards. Not any more.

It is an old observation that Parliamentarian is one of the few jobs for which a lack of qualification, training, skill, talent or experience presents no obstruction. Despite that, in a way that seems to encapsulate the pragmatic good fortune of this country, the most surprising thing is that so often our system works. Churchill was no scholar, Ernie Bevin left school at the age of 11 to start work as a labourer, yet was described by Churchill as ” by far the most distinguished man that the Labour Party has thrown up in my time”; upon that basis he appointed him to his war time cabinet.

But two swallows don’t make a summer, and for all the good work to be found within the Palace of Westminster, there are inevitably those who are not pulling their weight, either through lack of interest, distraction, or talent. Few and far between are those like Estelle Morris who appreciated her own unsuitability, and declared with candour and honour that she deemed herself “not up to the job” when she resigned from her post as Education Secretary.

Yet what of those lacking such insight?

Government ministers can and are dismissed, yet away from that centre of patronage and preferment there are many members of Parliament studiously time serving, voting as instructed and generally rendering little more than ” Miltonian Service”  by which Brother Ivo refers to “standing and waiting”.

For many, it is the hope of advancement through the party machinery which keeps them docile, and therein lies the enfeeblement of accountability.

We have allowed a widespread cultural acceptance of expanded government to obscure a fundamental principle of our Constitutional settlement. In these days when the history syllabus for most students comprises little beyond the rise of Nazism and the abolition of slavery, the story of Parliament and its resistance to the expanding ambitions of monarchy has been significantly forgotten. Facing the ever expanding ambitions of Government, few in this country now have the repertoire of historic awareness to read the signs and heed the warnings.

We have slipped again into Brother Ivo’s land of paradox.

Whilst advocates of less government seem content to fly their colours with pride, very few of those of a contrary opinion dare to face their electors and say openly “What I need is more power to interfere in your life”.

Similarly those who promote a reduction in taxation tend to be honest whereas those who wish us to pay more tax first begin by directing attention to “the rich”: there being not enough “rich” around to finance their expansionary plans, they inflate the currency until we too have apparently become “rich” and rich pickings for Government.

In such an environment the old role of Parliament has been usurped: too much of it is either about supporting the current government or planning to become the next.

In such a murky bouillabaisse of ambition, greed , flattery and intrigue, the old core value of suspecting and opposing all Government and its expansion has sunk to the bottom of the pot.

Happily the 2010 intake of Parliamentary members has added a new but familiar flavour to the fare on offer. They are stirring things up, and placed onto the agenda the invigorating idea of voter recall of members of Parliament.

They appear to be democratically and constitutionally aware, which is tested by a willingness to protect the interests of political opponents as much as friends. They are also historically literate, so they understand the Constitutional struggles of the English Civil War, the Restoration, and the Glorious Revolution, and appreciate the thought behind the American War of Independance – which some describe as the only successful English revolution.

From such history they draw the wisdom of men such as Thomas Payne who advised that ” It is the duty of the patriot to protect his country from the government”.

In modern times we can add party managers to those we need to be wary of.

In these days when the default position of so many is that Government can and should attempt to solve every problem from energy prices to the crisis in Syria we need parliamentarians who see the necessity of limiting such overreached ambition.

Those who think in these terms are mainly on the right. but certainly not exclusively so. This constitutionally aware minority are not only independent minded but recognise that if we are to improve the accountability of Government, we need to break the complacency of those who can take their own security for granted as they seek their own preferment within the party.

We would do well to remember the words of Thomas Jefferson.

” When the people fear the Government there is tyranny, when the Government fear the people there is liberty”.

With 70% of MP’s in “safe seats” it is time to introduce a mechanism whereby complacency is made that little bit more difficult.

This is no party political matter but a measure to promote an active sense of responsibility and responsiveness in all MP’s whether they have a wafer thin majority or one that needs to be weighed not counted.

Brother Ivo does not agree with Mr Goldsmith on all matters but applauds him and wishes well to all who support him from whatever side of the House they may come.

The “Gay Gene” Paradox

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Researchers at the Northwestern University in the USA have identified a gene which appears to be indicative of a genetic tendency towards male homosexuality. The Daily Telegraph tells the story here

It is important to state this in a careful, proportionate,  and provisional way. There is doubtless more to be studied and understood, and whilst this is undertaken, those with a special interest in “sexual politics” will be active in the media, spinning the interpretation before the data is all identified and evaluated in a mature way.

So far, the indication appears to be one of statistical association only. There are still likely to be non-genetic social components contributing to the behavioural outcome. Those factors may include an individual’s birth order in the family, with the number of older siblings being increasingly statistically relevant; a degree of volutary choice is not yet excludable.

Some will want to emphasise the involuntary aspect. Some will seize upon this research to emphasise the capacity, real or potential, to modify behaviour. The research tells us nothing about female same sex attraction though it would be a foolish activist of any persuasion who confidently asserted that there is no more to be learnt about that, within the continued unravelling mysteries of the genome.

One of the interesting speculations is that a younger child with several older siblings may be affected by a build up of maternal immunity with each successive pregnancy, and that those protective mechanisms are bio-chemically significant.

The idea of homosexual tendency as a by-product of large families is certainly intriguing. Will it decline with the tendency of the more affluent to have smaller families?

Will it thus become less “normal” ( which Brother Ivo uses in its precise not perjoratively sense) ?

Will Roman Catholicism’s views on contraceptive policy get “the blame”?

Prepare for much idle premature and foolish speculation.

There is one area if controversy that one can flag up early however.

If there is a genetic indicator, it will be possible to test for that gene, and with that knowledge human choices will come into play in the most contraversial way.

We already have children rejected by parents who will not accept a Downs Syndrome baby or a female child, and this results in their abortion. Fewer than 3% of Downs Sydrome children will survive such an  identification. With the new discovery and subsequent diagnostic techniques, will it therefore become lawfull and “acceptable” to abort babies who carry the “gay gene”

If not, why not?

Will it matter to the secular world if such abortions occur even if it is a gene of susceptibility only rather than being reliably determinative?

If not, why not?

Pandora’s box was opened long ago and as Alan Bennet famously said in one of his plays, “the skies are black with chickens coming home to roost.

Amongst those prominently defending such potentially gay babies from the tyranny of choice will be the Roman Catholic Church and other Christians whose commitment to protecting babies in the womb will transcend issues of gender or orientation. It will be the same ethical constituency that is routinely stigmatised as ” homophobic”.

One wonders how much thanks will they receive?

Brother Ivo flags up yet  another of life’s many curious paradoxes.

Brother Ivo picks apart a dishonest secularist campaign

 

 

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in case anyone were tempted to think humanism is a low key “live and let live” philosophy, and that secularism is the result of a simple absence of sustained faith, Brother Ivo thought he should share an image which is being sent around the internet by a militant group called the Global Secular Humanist Movement.

They invite approval for their campaigning tool which demonstrates breathtaking shallowness; if it were simply insulting to people of faith it would be regrettable. What is sadder still, is that there will be many “liking”, approving, and republishing it, with little analysis of the content, thereby demonstrating their own lack of capacity for critical thought in this area.

Let us look at it in detail.

It purports to ascribe a uniform view of children to “religion”.

There are some many hundreds of religions in the world. There is often little uniformity of doctrine within individual faiths let alone across the board. Brother Ivo has an interest in faith yet even he would struggle to describe what Buddism or Shintoism might say upon the doctrine of “original sin” which he assumes the secular humanists are attempting to allude to.

Speaking from a Christian standpoint, the image purports to describe the little girl in a manner which Brother Ivo has never heard uttered in a Christian context.

He has frequently heard children described as being made “in the image of God”.

Jeremiah remindes us that God knew this little girl when she was in her mother’s womb, and this “knowing”  was also a loving which led to his decision to redeem her from all that harms her by sending his son.

That son taught that unless we become like this little child, we cannot inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. He also taught that it would be better for anyone harming such a child to have a millstone tied round his/ her neck and being cast into the sea.

It is hard to read this as anything other than a total unconditional love and commitment to such children.

Christians do however hold that somewhere in life, Humankind has a tendency to go awry; one does not have to contemplate history for long,  or read everyday news stories without sensing that people who behave badly grow from children who were once seemingly blameless of wrongdoing.

Today’s headline story of the serial killer Joanna Dennehy, is illustrated by an early photograph of a pretty “innocent” child. The difficulty of reconciling such a child to the brutal actions of the adult was apparent from the earliest times and it is perfectly rational for a narrative which ascribes meaning to life to grapple with this paradox of life.

Brother Ivo invites the Global Secular Humanist Group to re-run its propaganda under the childhood photograph of Ms Dennehy, to see if it plays so well in their cause. To save them time he reproduces it here.

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The text seems nowhere near as convincing with this illustration now, does it?

Perhaps there was once a time when she was full of wonder, smart, a great learner, beautiful and with a potential for greatness, but worldly lifestyle choices, not least in relation to drugs and alcohol, plainly took their toll.

Alternatively he offers them an even earlier picture for their propaganda.

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This too is of a smart child, a good learner with a particular fascination for science: his name was Josef Mengele. He was the Auschwitz camp doctor responsible for appalling experiments upon children in the name of “science”; he was intelligent refined and popular in his town – a real poster boy for our anti- religion friends.

Brother Ivo’s challenge goes further.

The advocates of science based moral values appear to overlook that before Mengele and his fellow Nazis took their doctrine to its ultimate logic, breaking human beings into their constituent parts- hair, fat, ashes, skin etc- the scientific approach of the eugenics movement  dividing people by logic into higher and lower orders,  and thereafter taught that black people, Jews and those with disability were of lower value than those of their own station in life. It was to them only ” rational”. They rejected the sentimentality of the believer who taught that all God’s children were of equal value in His sight.

The much despised Victorian Church summed it up in an “irrational” little song containing the lines now omitted by the politically correct ” Red and Yellow Black and White, all are precious in His sight, Jesus died for all the children f the world”.

It was the racist Margaret Sanger who founded the American abortion provider Planned Parenthood, fueled by a desire to stop African Americans from reproducing.

It was, of course, a movement which put great store in the scientific doctrine of “survival of the fittest”, a doctrine which our humanist propagandist appear to have forgotten in their keenness to suggest that ” science” propels all children to “potential greatness”. They similarly neglect to remind us that “scientific” IQ testing does not support the notion of universal merit, potential or success either.

All this however ignores the greatest argument against their cause based upon their chosen measure -damage to the child – for if our smiling little girl were to have suffered from Downs Syndrome or to have  had parents who wanted a male child, “science” has absolutely no compunction whatsoever in washing her down the abortionist’s sluice.

It doesn’t look so sunny from that perspective either does it?

It appears that our secular propagandists are not only significantly under-informed about religion but also seem to be especially naive when it comes to the history of those who have sought to construct a moral order solely upon a “scientific”basis.

We need to be clear: science plainly has its place in unravelling the mechanics of life and the created order,  but it is less than impressive when it strays beyond that remit, especially when secularists try to construct ethical systems with specious claims of “scientific” moral superiority.

If you should encounter friends approving or re-publishing this highly unscientific propaganda, which neglects evidence on both sides, do give them Brother Ivo’s complements and send them a link with an invitation to think a little deeper.

The UN, the Catholic Church and Harriet Harman

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The impressively titled “United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child” has recently issued a report on the response of the Roman Catholic Church to child abuse allegations. In its approach, the UN is both new and right. Unfortunately where it is right it is not new, and where it is new it is not right.

Brother Ivo defers to no-one in his detestation of child abuse in all its forms. Christ has a special place in his heart for his little ones and warned of dire consequences to those who harm them. Brother Ivo began this year by making his own modest contribution to child protection by urging the Church to  “Make Child Abuse History”, explaining that every church and church member has to take responsibility for understanding the individual Church’s child protection procedures, and rigorously applying them whilst keeping compliance under regular review.

It is tedious repetitious work, but our protections are only as strong as our weakest link. Do not let that weak link be you, your church, or your Priest/Minister.

Insofar as the UN report identifies that the Roman Catholic Church has failed in the past, it is right.

Individual priests and bureaucratic cultures betrayed their Lord, their Church their congregations and their calling. When these crimes were identified, officialdom did what officialdom always does- secular and religious: it protected itself. That is a linked, but entirely separate wrong.

Simon Jenkins recently wrote powerfully in the Guardian reminding us that we have seen many institutional cover-ups of abuse, in the Army, NHS, Police, and Prison Service. Brother Ivo would add the BBC, Local Authority Care Homes, and UN to that list.

There seems to be an almost teleological tendency of humans and their institutions to place good reputation above good practice. The bible did warn us.  No sooner had Adam been discovered in his disobedience to God than he moved instantly to “damage limitation” and “reputation recovery” by blaming Eve.

Whenever the Church conforms to the standards of the world it fails, and in this serious matter it stands condemned, but it is far from alone. It is not the individual failure of the Church in these matters that should be remarked upon, but rather the Church’s utter alignment with secular standards rather than striking out towards its unique God-called standard of integrity.

Whilst the UN report tells us that things went wrong, there seems to be no part of the report which was not already known, understood or being currently being acted upon.

Brother Ivo is a member of a sister Church, which has been busily establishing procedures and practices built upon experiences of its own past failures and those of others. He has no doubt that his brothers and sisters of the Roman Catholic Church have been equally assiduous, and if they have not, that would have been the more useful focus of any critique by such an outside body as the UN.

The Catholic Church has delivered a low key response, but does indicate that its efforts to address the problem have been significantly downplayed or omitted from the report.

Brother has “no dog in the fight” and so is perhaps more free to make a few blunt observations

Amongst the members of the UN Committee for the Rights of the Child are Syria,Thailand, Sri Lanka Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Brother Ivo suggests that on a variety of issues, from war crime against children, child labour, child prostitution and female genital mutilation, these countries have scant authority to cast the first stone.

The committee is not content to regurgitate known facts however. It goes a step further and rather pompously claims the right to instruct the Church upon its doctrines.

This UN committee not only has no authority to link the Vatican’s views on abortion, contraception and homosexuality to the question of child abuse, it fails to give proper weight to how faithful adherence to the Church’s teaching on matters of human sexuality and family life promotes the protection of children.

There are a number of “inconvenient truths” in play here.

Statistically it is not the local priest who is most likely to abuse your child.

More teachers than priests are accused of abuse in all its forms.

According to A Department of Education report 12,086 such allegations were made in 2009-10. 2827 teachers were involved, 1709 non teaching staff were also accused. About half related to physical abuse. Strikingly only 20% of those accused were suspended during the investigation. One third of allegations were substantiated, another 20% inconclusive and only 2% deemed        “malicious”. 12% were prosecuted.

Imagine the calumnies that would fall on any church if it had such a statistical profile.

If Brother Ivo were then to draw strong conclusions about the risk of sexual abuse from entire Educational Establishment and teaching profession, and to call for a root and branch reform of the education system, is it not plain what would happen? Ten thousand metaphorical swords would leap from their scabbards in defence of this fine body of folk. There would be accusations of bigotry – and that would be right. The proportion of teachers – and priests – who fall from Grace is small, but they tend to be devious, persistent, and ” irreplaceable “.  This is why strict process is needed, to avoid being distracted  by plausible explanations and indispensability.

Sadly the willingness to equally defend people of faith from such broad brush criticism, is not all one might expect from a society whose narrative embraces fair process and “human rights”

It seems that if you are antagonistic to religion and people of faith, especially if it involved the Vatican, those who form public opinion will give you every opportunity to have a “free hit”. 

Yet there are two facts highlighted by that Government report which cannot pass unremarked as we consider the folly of the UN’s attempt to sit in judgement on Church doctrine.

Statistically, a child is most at risk from those known to him/her.

More specifically, greatest risk to a child is from a step-parent or mother’s boyfriend. Church teaching maximises the retention of the most protective environment possible- marriage between the child’s birth parents. In contrast, those of a more “liberal” outlook, who have both elevated dependency on the State and marginalised fatherhood, have consistently undermined the value of that protection.

It is no coincidence that the incidence of child abuse and the destabilisation and decline of marriage have risen within the same 50 years. Dysfunctionality grows exponentially

The next most likely abuser of a child or young person  is …. another child or young person. Whether by overt bullying or unwanted peer pressure the young are exploited within the context of a sexualised culture which facilitates the abuser’s task.That culture has everything to do with secular values and nothing to do with those taught by the Church.

The attempt to foist responsibility for the presence or growth of child abuse on the Catholic Church’s attitudes to contraception, abortion or homosexuality is specious and needs to be called out by all of us. it is part of the “insurgency” which Brother Ivo has called upon, an insurgency against the values of the day, and against the values that are hurting children first and incidentally the Church.

The latter has endured much worse, and may yet do so again. It is not for the Church’s sake that we must take responsibility for these problems back to those truly responsible. Sadly the Church is often reluctant, afraid even, to be as direct as its critics.

Brother Ivo isn’t.

He has already challenged the right of the UN committee to pontificate on such matters. There is another challenge that ought to be made if we are to clean up public life from past errors about child abuse.

Is there anyone in the hierarchy of the country’s Churches who might start by mentioning  an example very close to home?

In the 1980’s the forerunner of Liberty – the National Council for Civil Liberties – became catastrophically embroiled with the Paedophile Information Exchange, an organisation dedicated to promoting child abuse as a normal expression of  human sexuality and changing the law to permit it. Liberty’s current Director Shammi Chakrabarti has made the same kind of clear and unequivocal acknowledgement and apology for that involvement as critics have required of the Church. All credit to her for doing so. You may read the outline of the case ”here”

There are, however, three historic apologies outstanding. They are needed from the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Harriet Harman MP, her husband Jack Dromey MP and former MP Patricia Hewitt who currently chairs the UK India Business Council.

The facts are plain, well established established. and unequivocal.

All three were senior officers of the NCCL at the time when the organisation was promoting the interests of that paedophile group. If the Papacy and its past officers has accepted responsibility for past neglect, is there any proper reason why these high profile political folk should not do the same, or are they waiting for a UN report to prompt them?

Now some may think this a party political point which ought not to concern people of religion.

Yet do not Church leaders often speak of the need to raise the voice of prophecy? Having been properly examined and chastised for past deficiencies in protecting our children, should not our Church Leaders be publicly and determinedly working to establish similar standards of accountability and integrity in the secular world? Is this not an outrageous example?

It makes no difference to the victims, present or historic, whether the deficiencies were secular or religious. Common standards should apply.

Have there not been enough cover-ups to save the reputations of the influential? Do we truly wish to be complicit all over again?

Dear Peter Ould – “We are the insurgents now!”

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Peter Ould has written an interesting and provocative piece in which he urges the Church to stop fighting the old culture wars, which he asserts are lost, and concentrate on preaching the Good News of the Gospel.

If you have not read it yet it is well worth reading ”here”

There is much to be said for his reminder that however beneficial to society an Institution may be, whether marriage, or family, or the Established Church, it is not in itself the Gospel, and he writes his thoughts having read the books of the Acts of the Apostles in their entirety at one sitting.

That is doubtless a useful spiritual discipline in itself, and it has plainly highlighted and sharpened for Brother Peter the contemporary issues of the early church, helping him to look again at how we need to see our mission as redemption first, and compliance second.

If Brother Ivo were to condense the argument, it might be thus; – “It is the grace of God that will save us and our response should be to shine as a light to the world which will, in time, bring our values and priorities into alignment with Gods will.”

Brother Peter identifies this as the approach which served the early church well in transforming a pagan society into a Christian one, and that is the model he urges us to follow today.

If that is not a fair conclusion, Brother Ivo will apologise and stand corrected. The post stands for itself, commended and approved so that you may read it uninterpreted and judge for yourself.

Brother Ivo does not disagree with Brother Peter,  but writes to extend the conversation in the context of his own modest mission statement which is to “write social commentary as if religion really matters”.

We are  called to stand apart from the world and to speak of eternal verities, and yet at the same time the sower must have understanding of the field in which he sows, the fisherman experience of the waters in which he fishes, and the preacher close fellowship with the sinners with whom he breaks bread.

“In the world but not of it” is a tricky position in which to find oneself, and often when we tentatively attempt to follow bold souls into difficult places we find ourselves on thin ice. Many of us dare not make the attempt.

To change the metaphor Soren Kierkergaarde wrote that sometimes a man of faith may be likened to a tightrope walker; what he does may seem impossible and yet it is done, and so there may be a hope amongst us that men like Brother Peter can engage with the world whilst not tumbling into its controversies.

And yet, engaging in those controversies is not entirely ignoble either

We need the purists and the best examples to anchor us to that early Church model, but in a fallen world isn’t some messy engagement with the everyday world going to engage many of our number?

If the old culture wars are over, will there not inevitably be new ones?

Brother Ivo highlights three  current news stories without attempting analysis in depth.

A Hollywood “star” dies of a drug overdose leaving a young family behind. The beneficiary of Government preferment laments that she is not to be re-appointed to her post when her contract expires. The Education Establishment is stung that its ways of doing things is coming under review by a radical approach of an outsider, forgetting that it too was radical, once.

The Church cannot help but be cognisant of these events and inevitably it will  hear its members engaging with the controversies, and probably be asked to pass comment.

Just as Brother Peter was wise enough to look back at historical context, so we might highlight to this present age,  that as Christian “hegemony” has been challenged and overthrown ( to use the language of Gramsci) a new set of orthodoxies have held sway for the last 50 years.

Just as Church Orthodoxies acquired a historic record that could be examined and used to challenge it from a worldly standard, so the victors of the culture wars referred to by Peter Ould   are now coming increasingly under the same process of evaluation and judgement.

We should not be surprised, for were we not taught that “by their fruits ye shall know them”?

The secular world view may not recognise the Christian standard but the Marxist world view that informed much of the cultural attack on the old traditional model, had its own principle which leads to the same disturbing outcome.

Marx’s dialectic predicted the sequence of thesis, antithesis and synthesis.

We had antithetical change when culture wars defeated Christian values; we are living in its synthesis – but life goes on and we are surely seeing once victorious mindsets, having since become the new Establishment, facing a cultural backlash of their own.

We may be entering the times of renewed intellectual turmoil as the chickens come home to roost.

With every drugs death we approach the time when people may begin to ask if the ” naughty but nice” approach to drugs, is actually worth the pain of the children losing their father.  Nick Clegg may claim the drugs war lost; Brother Ivo suggests that the time for declaring the failure of such hedonism is about to arrive ; surely the misery that drugs cause cannot not stand unchallenged by the culture for long.

The problem with acquiring cultural hegemony is that with it,  comes the loss of other people to blame. We may hear Hollywood lamenting the loss of  Mr Seymour Hoffman’s talent, yet  Christians, sympathetic to his family, can and should be challenging his selfish values and those of the the new Establishment; values which left his children fatherless.

It may not be our first priority as missioners for Christ, but neither is it unchristian if we take responsibility for such tragedies back to those who won the culture wars. It is perfectly proper to “reprove with judgement”.

That is not fighting the old culture wars, it is however opening a new perspective on the fight against the hubris of fallen man.

The story of Lady Morgan may be more obviously  political but that is not to render it immune from Christian evaluation.

We often say that part our mission is to comfort the discomforted and discomfort the comfortable. Who is more complacent and comfortable than those who live their entire lives within the  Westminster confines of approval by their fellows , funded by the little people.

We have seen that for some years the number of holders of highly remunerated public offices have been overwhelmingly from one political party. Fraser Nelson has explained it clearly ”here”

Lady Morgan’s imperious sense of entitlement to continued office is little more than the  familiar process of the Establishment objecting when its ways, and abuses, come under scrutiny. The biter is being bit.

As yesterday’s post makes clear, in such matters Brother Ivo calls “a plague on all your houses”, believing that there should be fewer sinecures, fewer political appointments and more public service. Christians have often been in the forefront of demonstrating such self sacrifice. We should be doing so again, and if that upsets either the Labour politicians in place or the Conservative aspirants then so be it.

In these matters we should be genuinely counter-cultural to the venal spirit of the age, and if this means confronting those who once regarded themselves as” anti-Establishment” and “counter cultural” themselves then we may indeed be engaged in a new culture war.

There are many other examples, but Brother Ivo cannot fail to mention the very considerable irony that within the world of Education, a generation of movers and shakers has marginalised Christianity within our schools and promoted “political correctness ” as an alternative. Brother Ivo cannot but smile as the  current Education Secretary is criticised for introducing political ideology into our schools.

Given the name of what went before ( the clue is in the title) one cannot help thinking that the objection is not to a heavily weighted political agenda being present in the classroom, but rather, someone else’s heavily weighted political agenda being present in the classroom.

We do not have to take sides in the minutiae of the issues, but we can speak up for a degree of integrity and self awareness which is seemingly lacking in the current dominant ethos of much  public life. We are called to be salt, and salt can be irritate.

So the problem is, that no sooner do we walk away from one set of culture wars than we shall find ourselves embroiled in a new set.

Yet in this new round, accepting the thesis of Peter Ould is interesting and challenging.

When the Labour Government took office in 1945 the cry went up “We are the masters now” and soon they found themselves judged on their record.

Once we concede that the secular radicals  won the culture wars, they find themselves in the uncomfortable position of defending the consequences of their actions.

In this Peter Ould and Brother Ivo’s analyses converge. Whether we speak in terms of the spiritual or the practical aspects of Christianity, we are back with the early church in a much more familiar and life affirming position.

“We are the insurgents now!”

 

Public Life needs more Captain Mainwarings

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When Brother Ivo first started work it became fairly obvious that Civic Life was supported by a number of people and institutions which worked together in a complicated but benign way for the good of the Town.

The politics of the town swung continuously between the two major parties at both a national and local level and so there was a significant appreciation that no formal grouping could assume a lengthy holding of the reins of power. The office of Mayor was conventionally alternated between the parties and although there was unquestionably sincere disagreement, there was also a degree of self interest driving attempts to find a  via media on many issues in order to ensure continuity of plans for the promotion of the public good.

Below the formal politics there was an array of contributors; there was the Chamber of Commerce, the Trades Unions, The Round Table, the Freemasons, the Lions, WI, WRVS, Royal British Legion, and a raft of local charities peopled and led by unpaid volunteers. The local Justices of the Peace reflected this diversity and came in time to embrace the growing Sikh community.

The local Bank , Building Society and Friendly Society Managers knew each other and had a fair degree of autonomy so that if a local initiative was needed to build a hospice or fund a Hall for Scouts and Guides, you were likely to find a coalition of the town’s movers and shakers who knew who could advise of offer practical help. They often found the people to make it happen from amongst future aspirants to join their ranks.

Doubtless this description carries the whiff of patriarchy and old boy network about it but even with those faults, the town was well served. The local Building Society Manager in those days  chaired the Magistrates Bench and had a wide knowledge and love of the community.

He resembled no-one more that Arthur Lowe’s brilliant and sympathetically drawn character Captain Mainwaring.

Both  were pillars of the community, and  had a real attachment to the people whose welfare they served. For al their occasional pomposity, both the fictional figure and the real life character could be relied upon to act with integrity and to do their duty.

Brother Ivo’s mind went back to people such as these as he listened to the row over the decision by the Education Secretary Michael Gove not to re-appoint the Head of Ofsted when her three year contract expires. The cry went up that there was a sinister political motive behind the decision and she was said to have been “sacked” when in reality her contract is simply expiring. If we wanted or needed six year terms of office presumably the norm would have been to have offered contracts of such length, or to suitably include review or break provisions.

As the controversy grew it was rather shocking to find that there are some 600 similar appointments within the patronage of Government, each presumably carrying a six figure pro-rata salary and subsequent pension rights.

One cannot help but contrast the old ways and the new, the local and the national.

There appears to have grown up both a career path and an expectation amongst those who once would have made a career and in the end “given back” through public service, that they should pass from one lucrative career to another, and perhaps another, collecting advantages rather as a whale gathers barnacles through longevity.

The row over Lady Morgan’s departure from her post appears to Brother Ivo to be both party political but also supra political.

In the murky world of politics, any advantage is now sought, though it does seem to be the case that no only has there been a significant past bias towards appointments from Lady Morgan’s own party but also that she may have been a past adviser to Tony Blair in having many of those put in place.

She is however arguing beyond for self and party,,

She is also arguing a case for entitlement on behalf of a new class of quasi rulers who have passed from the times of being “public servants” like the old Captain Mainwarings , to becoming a class defending its entitlements to the public purse. We have passed from service to dependency, and that is a shame.

We need more Captain Mainwarings.