Posted by: Michael Kirke | April 19, 2014

The Catholic Church is blue in the face reminding us of this

Anguish. But why?

How painful this must be for Anglican Christians who believe themselves to be members of a Church founded by Jesus Christ? Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury sets his doctrinal compass by judging who or who will not continue to follow his example rather than by the moral compass set by Jesus Christ himself.

In a  Daily Telegraph article we are told: Although indicating that he was sympathetic to calls for the Church to publicly honour gay relationships, the Archbishop says that it is “impossible” for some followers in Africa to support homosexuality. In the interview, the leader of the Anglican Church, which has 77 million followers globally, speaks movingly of the persecution faced by Christians in parts of the world. He indicates that the Church must not take a step that would cut off these groups, most of them in the third world, however much this angers parts of society in Britain.

Following that way of thinking Christ might have said to those faithful disciples who remained with him after others walked away when he promised the Eucharist: I cannot give you this great gift of my body because these others who would like to follow me find it “impossible” to accept it.

Archbishop Welby’s followers surely expect him to decide on what he should teach and legislate for in these matters on the basis of what is right or wrong, what is sinful, and not on how many people here or there find something possible or impossible.

Welby acknowledges that in the past people experiencing same-sex attraction have suffered at the hands of others, Christians and non Christians. That this should have happened was never, and never will be, part of authentic Christian teaching. The principle which governs a Christian’s attitude to all this derives from Christ’s own example when he said to the woman taken in adultery: Go and sin no more.

The sexual attraction which led that woman to the act of adultery was not sinful. Its indulgence, her response to that attraction in an adulterous act – whether in mind or in body – was what was sinful.  Christ did not fudge that.

Homosexual attraction is not in itself sinful. The Catholic Church is blue in the face reminding us of this. The indulgence of that attraction in acts – again in mind or in body – is sinful. No amount of head-counting, opinion polling, counting who does or does not find something “impossible”, will change that.

Christians in Africa have their own deeply rooted customs and social practices to cope with which are alien to Christianity. At some future date we might have a sub-Saharan occupant in the See of St. Augustine in Canterbury. If there were pressure from his flocks in Africa asking the Christian Church to bend its moral laws and come to terms with polygamy, it would be a very weak and flawed response on his part to offer as a reason for not doing so that people of another culture would find that “impossible” to accept.

A moral teaching which seeks to operate on this kind of criteria will soon wither away.



In the aftermath of Irish Television’s failed attempt to do a hatchet job on the Pure in Heart movement – which organises speakers to go into Catholic schools giving presentations of Catholic Church teaching on the morality of sexual behaviours – further afield the same onslaught against orthodox Catholic teaching is taking place.

In Wakefield Rhode Island in the US, controversy has erupted at a Roman Catholic school after students and parents reacted with outrage to Church teaching on sexuality as presented at a school assembly. This follows the same pattern as events at a school in Charlotte, North Carolina some weeks earlier.

Meanwhile in Paris a French government minister accuses those who assert the teaching of the Catholic Church of trying to wage an ideological war from another era. In all cases the story seems to be the same. As with Irish Television’s presentation, orthodox teachers are misquoted and Catholic teaching is represented in grotesque forms, all the better, it seems to facilitate its consignment to the rubbish dump of history.

In Rhode Island Father Francis “Rocky” Hoffman spoke to students at The Prout School and in the course of his talk, he apparently made comments critical of homosexuality and divorce that some students found offensive. There has been uproar and some Catholic observers feel let down by the Diocese of Providence’s spokesman on the issue who has seemed to agree with Hoffman’s critics. They see the controversy as part of a growing tendency to rage against Catholics for simply professing Church teaching on marriage and homosexuality.

There is as yet no response from Bishop Thomas Tobin, a bishop known for his strong defence of Church teaching on life and family, to clarify the diocese’s position.

Administrators at Prout, however, issued written and verbal apologies to parents and students alike after a number of parents expressed anger about the content of Fr. Hoffman’s presentation, and that they weren’t notified in advance. Some are openly calling for Principal David Carradini’s resignation over the matter. A transcript of what Fr. Hoffman actually said in the discussions with the students is no yet available, but as one source, Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, commented, it could hardly be stronger than what Sacred Scripture itself says.

“What did Fr. Hoffman say that was so horrible? Could he have been harsher than the Bible?” the priest asked, quoting Leviticus 20:13: “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination.”

“Could his talk have been more challenging than Matthew 5:32: ‘But I say to you that every one who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, makes her an adulteress; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.’?”

In a separate post, Zuhlsdorf lamented, “If you speak in public now with any clarity about the Church’s teachings on sexuality, marriage, etc., or avert to conclusions which rational people reach about the same derived from the Natural Law, you will be met with fury.”

The incident at Prout is reminiscent of the recent furor at Charlotte Catholic High School in North Carolina, where comments made by Sister Jane Dominic Laurel that were critical of divorce and homosexuality provoked anger among students and parents, leading to a contentious meeting between diocesan and school officials and parents that attracted roughly 1,000 people. That controversy became so heated that Sr. Laurel, a professor at Aquinas College, has taken a sabbatical from her teaching and speaking duties.

The similarity between the two stories has led some Catholic bloggers to accuse diocesan and school officials in both locations of throwing those who dare to promote unpopular Church doctrines “under the bus.”

“Catholic education’s easy bargain of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ concerning dissent against Church teachings and morality has coalesced into ‘outrage’ from parents and students when high schools try to teach and enforce Church teachings,” wrote Rebecca Hamilton of the Public Catholic blog. “Bishops, when faced with these angry mobs have turned to the time-honored bureaucratic practice of court-martial-the-private/fire-the-secretary/shoot-the-messenger. Sister Mary Tracy resigned in Seattle. Sister Jane Dominic Laurel took a sabbatical in North Carolina. Father Rocky Hoffman hasn’t been cashiered the way the nuns were, but he has been properly apologized for to the mob.”

“The response to angry mobs demanding that Catholic schools not teach Catholic teaching has been to wave the white flag and toss the hapless offender who committed the crime of doing what the Church says we should all do under the bus,” Hamilton wrote. “If every Catholic who believes what the Church teaches gets thrown under the bus for being politically incorrect enough to say so in public, we’re going to need a lot bigger bus.”

Meanwhile a school in Paris is to be investigated after complaints from parents and teachers of a similar nature.

Benoit Hamon, the education minister, has ordered an inspection of the Gerson school in the 16th arrondissement, saying there is evidence that pupils are being subjected to “an ideological war from another era”.

It is alleged that members of a group called Alliance Vita or “Life Alliance told sixth formers that women who used birth control were “semi-murderers” and abortion was “tantamount to murder”, according to a parent quoted in Le Parisien newspaper.

Alliance Vita said its members had been invited by the school to address pupils about topics including in-vitro fertilisation and surrogacy. “Some want the subject of abortion to remain taboo but abortion is a genuine issue in society that should be discussed with young people,” the group said in a statement.

While allegations fly around about what was said or not said – including an allegation that the school is being taken over by Opus Dei, a prelature of the Catholic Church, a statement from the school board of management said the Alliance Vita had merely “taken part in extra-curricular sessions,” adding that it had received no complaints from teachers or pupils.

Philippe Person, the headmaster, said: “It’s possible that two members of the school faculty belong to Opus Dei out of 150 teachers and staff”.

That does not sound too much like a take-over.


Posted by: Michael Kirke | April 16, 2014

Sad fate of poetry in our education system

Billy Collins

The point of reading a poem is not to try to “solve” it. Still, that quantifiable process of demystification is precisely what teachers are encouraged to teach students, often in lieu of curating a powerful experience through literature. The literature itself becomes secondary, boiled down to its Cliff’s Notes demi-glace. 

These are the words of a teacher who confesses that 16 years after enjoying a high school literary education rich in poetry, I am a literature teacher who barely teaches it. So far this year, my 12th grade literature students have read nearly 200,000 words for my class. Poems have accounted for no more than 100.

This is a shame—not just because poetry is important to teach, but also because poetry is important for the teaching of writing and reading.

Andres Simmons is an American and he is writing in The Atlantic. He explores  the fate of poetry in the modern classroom – and the fate of the students deprived of a good education through poetry, deprived of one of  the richest and enriching means of expressing our understanding and feelings about the human condition that there is.

In an education landscape that dramatically deemphasizes creative expression in favor of expository writing and prioritizes the analysis of non-literary texts, high school literature teachers have to negotiate between their preferences and the way the wind is blowing. That sometimes means sacrifice, and poetry is often the first head to roll.

Yet poetry enables teachers to teach their students how to write, read, and understand any text. Poetry can give students a healthy outlet for surging emotions. Reading original poetry aloud in class can foster trust and empathy in the classroom community, while also emphasizing speaking and listening skills that are often neglected in high school literature classes.

He admits that one of the biggest problems is that teachers either shy away from the proper method of introducing their students to poetry or lack the skills to do so.

Either of these failures leads the temptation to disembowel a poem’s meaning and diminish the personal, even transcendent, experience of reading a poem. He quotes Billy Collins who characterizes the latter as a “deadening” act that obscures the poem beneath the puffed-up importance of its interpretation. In his poem “Introduction to Poetry,” Collins writes:  “all they want to do is tie the poem to a chair with rope/and torture a confession out of it./They begin beating it with a hose/to find out what it really means.”

Sad fate.


Posted by: Michael Kirke | April 15, 2014

‘The Goldfinch’ – a worthy Pulitzer winner


Great news just out. The BBC and a multitude of other media reports that Donna Tartt has just won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. A really worthy winner.

Tartt’s 784-page bestseller The Goldfinch, which was named Amazon’s 2013 book of the year, is set in modern Manhattan and tells the story of a young orphan coming to terms with the death of his mother. – BBC

But it does so much more than tell a story. It enriches the reader in a myriad of ways.

Columbia University, which awards the prize, said judges described it as “a beautifully written coming-of-age novel … that stimulates the mind and touches the heart.

The book, which is in the running for this year’s Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction in the UK, beat two other nominees, The Son by Philip Meyer and The Woman Who Lost Her Soul by Bob Shacochis.

Fans of Tartt had waited a decade since her second novel The Little Friend, which many had found disappointing after her strong 1992 debut The Secret History.

“The only thing I am sorry about is that Willie Morris and Barry Hannah aren’t here,” said Tartt, referring to two authors who were her early mentors.

“They would have loved this,” she added.

Reviewed here some months ago.

Posted by: Michael Kirke | April 15, 2014

Something rotten in the state of… pretty-well everywhere

ELISE HILTON on MONDAY, APRIL 14, commented on Ross Douthat’s most recent musings on our toxic culture. She was writing on the Acton Institute blog.

Both of them, Douthat and Hilton (pictured), are alerting us to a much deeper malaise in our civilisation than this or that threatened value which we might consider important – regard for life, marriage, family and freedom of conscience. It is as though we have now abandoned our Geneva protocol about the manner in which our disagreements should be resolved in the culture wars. One side in the war has now opted for the indiscriminate use of poison gas as a way to eliminate the enemy.

The organizations focused on by Douthat and Hilton – giant corporations and universities – Harvard, Brandeis, Mozilla, most recently – have now created atmospheres of toxic untruths: what we say isn’t really what we mean. We are using words that mean something, but we aren’t using them that way. We will say “diversity” but mean “lock-step.” We’ll say “academic justice” but mean “only liberals need apply.” This, Douthat says, is what is bothering him: the toxic lies of what is now liberalism.

Douthat’s problem isn’t so much that these organisations have taken illiberal measures against people in the name of liberalsim:it’s that those charged with publicly discussing the issues seem so bent on lying.

Posted by: Michael Kirke | April 14, 2014

“Freedom is a word I rarely use without thinking…”

David Quinn, in his Irish Independent column on Friday reflected on Irish independence in the context of what the people of Scotland are currently contemplating – separation from the United Kingdom. He speculated on Facebook that what he had to say might not be acceptable to some people.

The debate generated on Facebook was a reasonable one – as far as I could see. To it I contributed the following, agreeing with David’s point of view:

True, it is easier to be wise after an event – and more so 100 years after. But better late then never, and I’m afraid that for some of our countrymen it looks like never.
War brings out the worst in many people. If it is a foolish unnecessary war – which with hindsight surely we must say, and as David points out, a war for our independence truly was – then we must hold those who launch it in some was responsible for the crimes it engenders.
The questions of government, good government, ways in which we are governed, are practical questions. When they become ideological and doctrinaire the practicalities are lost sight of and we are in danger of losing our reason.
The people of Scotland are going to look reality in the eye and I’m sure they will make the right decision. It is a great pity we departed from that path in 1916. Nevertheless, Let’s get on with it now as best we can. We cannot change the past – but we can make a reasonable fist at determining the future.
We on these islands – with our brothers and sisters in the greater anglophone world – have a deep and shared heritage. We are in fact a people. We have shades of green, red and blue – but we are still a people. History has made us this and no amount of ideological posturing will change that.

Posted by: Michael Kirke | April 13, 2014

Getting income equality in perspective

Stop talking about income equality. Explain it. This is a start.

For all those who get themselves into a frenzy about income inequality, Ross Douthat makes this interesting observation in an interview in The Kenyon Observer:
The income gap between the richest 1 percent of Americans and the rest of the country rose faster in the late 1990s than it did in the late 1980s. But nobody in their right mind would prefer the economy of the late 1980s to the economy of the late 1990s: The former featured a slide into recession; the latter featured robust wage growth across the board and historically low unemployment rates. If income inequality were the crucial issue, we’d look back on 1998 as a dreadful year, and 1991 as a great one. But wages and widely-shared growth are actually the most important issues, so we remember 1998 as a lost golden age, its rising inequality notwithstanding.

The interview is here.

Posted by: Michael Kirke | April 12, 2014

Al Gore’s nine inconvenient truths


The BBC reports on an embarrassment for the incredible Mr. Gore, that is the would-be US president, Mr. Al Gore, whose acclaimed documentary on global warming has now to be accompanied by a health warning in English schools, an English judge has ruled.

Mr Gore’s reference in the film to a new scientific study showing that, for the first time, polar bears had actually drowned “swimming long distances – up to 60 miles – to find the ice”. The judge said: “The only scientific study that either side before me can find is one which indicates that four polar bears have recently been found drowned because of a storm.”

A case against the film being shown in schools was brought by school governor Stewart Dimmock, from Dover, a father of two.

His lawyers described the ruling as a “landmark victory”.

Mr Dimmock said: “I am elated with today’s result, but still disappointed that the film is able to be shown in schools.

Mount Kilimanjaro has had its snow reduce in recent years
“If it was not for the case brought by myself, our young people would still be being indoctrinated with this political spin.”

Posted by: Michael Kirke | April 11, 2014

Literature and life

You may or may not – yet – have read The Goldfinch, the new Donna Tartt novel. You may or may not even have read the post on this blog about the novel. But if you are at all interested in life, art, writing and mankind’s stuttering attempts to make sense of the human condition, look at and listen to this interview with Tartt.

Here she talks – and she does not give many interviews, it is said, – about this book, its purpose, its creation and what she hopes we as readers will get from it. She talks about books and the important part they can play in our lives. She talks about literature as philosophy and how it can teach without preaching the good life. Great literature and books are for her one of the great gifts in life. She talks about Dickens – to whom she is often compared – and the human and moral insight which abound in his work.

If you have not felt like taking up her 800 page opus up to this point this interview might make you change your mind.

An extract from the longer CBS  interview from which the Bloomberg segment was taken is here.

Here she talks about the book in Waterstones in London.


Posted by: Michael Kirke | April 10, 2014

A bewildering and sad tale of deceit and betrayal

Bewildering is about the only word I can think of to describe my reaction to John Waters’ expose of the current state of what was – until recent times – Ireland’s most important newspaper as he describes the events which brought to an end his 24-year career with the The Irish Times. We knew it was bad – but we did not know it was this bad.

Waters lays it all bare in a six page account of his last few months’ experience on the payroll of the paper in the current issue of Village magazine. To most of us it would be a nightmare. Waters takes it in his stride but as he recounts the tale of deceit, dysfunction and betrayal one wonders how much longer a media operation of this kind can be among us. After reading his article we have to ask, on picking up any edition of this morning paper, what trust could we have in anything that appears in it.

Waters writes not to moan or to even vindicate himself, but rather to alert us to a danger which is lurking under the veneer of prestige, status and respectability which Irish media agencies are wearing but are wearing very thinly.

The back-story surrounding this event is the story of the libelling of Waters and others on a TV programme. They were groundlessly called homophobes. They took legal action and won substantial damages. There followed a heavily orchestrated media uproar in protest at the payments made in which all objectivity was thrown out the window. Waters writes in the article in Village:

“Anyone with the slightest concern for the health of Irish democracy must regard the deluge of hatred more or less stoked by the ‘Irish broadcaster’ and the Irish Times, and agitated in the lawless world of social media into a tsunami of bullying, with the utmost dismay.

“By far the most worrying aspect, however, is that, unless urgent action is taken by those with the power to take it, there may soon be no audible voice left to raise itself against the corrupted clamour of the unrecognised, unaccountable fifth column now directing every twitch and nuance of our public life. What is at issue is not, as some propose, the validity of any particular argument, but the capacity of the collective conversation much longer to accommodate any kind of argument at all.”

The tragedy is one with both communal and personal implications. This is, in the first instance, a drama in which we are probably witnessing the death of a national institution in the life of a small country. If the demise of the Irish Times is staring us in the face we know that it is not simply because of the undoubted economic and other difficult operating circumstances which make all media organisation vulnerable today. It will be because the paper has effectively become internally corrupted and the people who have been supporting it have lost their faith in it.

The last straw for Waters came when he found that he was personally betrayed by someone within the paper in nothing less than an Iago-style saga of deceit – smiling and smiling while all the time playing the villain on Twitter, foul mouthing and backstabbing Waters while dissembling friendship. It is a deeply disturbing and sad story.

Waters has now resigned from the paper – and that is more bad news for the paper for there were many who bought it simply because he was writing for it. He has done so with deep regret but “certain of the importance of protesting at the present drift of the newspaper towards an ideological orthodoxy that threatens its role as an esteemed journal of record and a bulwark of Irish democracy.”

So it was. So it can be again. But will it?

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