Catholic church

A matter of life and death | 19 January 2017

This month, 30 years ago, I wrote a draft of what was to become soon afterwards the first comprehensive human rights charter for people with HIV. It was born out of an urgency to stop the global drift by governments to panic and repression. In March 1987, a handful of us founded the UK Aids Vigil Organisation to campaign for the protections set out in the charter, lobby the World Health Ministers Summit in London and host a parallel HIV human rights conference, one of the first such conferences held anywhere. Our modest efforts were a mere footnote to a much bigger and more important story, which is told by

Real life | 12 January 2017

A few moments after saying the communion rite, the priest looked at his congregation and uttered easily the most disturbing thing I have ever heard said in a church: ‘If anyone wants a gluten-free Eucharist, please queue up on this side.’ The builder boyfriend, already grumpy at being made to go to mass, tittered behind me. We hadn’t been able to find two seats together so I now had to imagine him making a series of faces to my back. I couldn’t resist. I had to turn round and seek his opinion on this most revoltingly PC of moments. I have been going to mass off and on like the

Gavin Mortimer

François Fillon could become the face of France’s Catholic revival

It strikes me that it’s not much fun being a Catholic in France these days. Strolling back to my apartment in Paris on Christmas Eve, for example, I passed my local church. Inside a midnight Mass was in progress; outside a policeman stood guard. It was the same across France, an army of gun-toting men and women protecting the nation’s cathedrals and churches. They’ll be back at Easter, and on the Ascension and the Assumption. For how long? Who knows how long the country that is known as ‘the eldest daughter of the church’ because of its Christian heritage will need to protect its flock. There’s been just one fatal attack

How the Catholic Church created democracy

Going to spend Christmas with relatives you don’t really like? Well, you can thank God you only have to see them once a year rather than living as an extended family. Or more precisely you can thank the Catholic Church, without whom you’d all still be in the same house as your uncles and aunties and marrying your cousin. It is reasonably well known that the medieval Church’s ban on cousin marriage helped to make western Europe less clannish; but according to an interesting new paper from Nottingham University, by doing this the Catholic Church actually laid the foundations of democracy. The author, Jonathan F Schulz, argues: ‘The role of

My path to becoming a priest

Prayer comes readily when we are distressed or in danger. Agnosticism falls away. It has been so for me. Many years ago, I prayed intensely at a time of crucial decision-taking. I was puzzled and distressed. Should I really be a priest? Slowly, clarity came. I decided with a sureness and a trust beyond reason. My prayer was certainly answered. Since then, in 47 years as a priest, even in the hardest of sorrows and confusion, never — yet — have I had a sense of being abandoned by the Lord, never losing the deep stability of that decision. To read more from our Spectator survey of answered prayers, click

The Pope’s bizarre rant about eating faeces makes me wonder if he should retire

Have you read what the Pope has just said about being sexually turned on by eating faeces? He wasn’t talking about himself, let me quickly add: just human beings in general. They make him sound more like a desperately tasteless stand-up comedian than the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church. I think the media have to be very clear, very transparent, and not fall into – no offence intended – the sickness of coprophilia, that is, always wanting to cover scandals, covering nasty things, even if they are true. And since people have a tendency towards the sickness of coprophagia, a lot of damage can be done. ‘No offence intended.’ That’s a nice touch,

Why is this church offering diva pics and videos?

In Northern Ireland recently, I sought out the Mass times of the local Church of the Immaculate Conception. Its website duly listed them, but I was surprised to find roughly half its web-page filled with a picture of a young woman’s all-but-naked torso and the invitation to click for more ‘Diva pics and videos’. I couldn’t tell whether this was a viral invasion or an Irish parish’s highly unimmaculate conception of how to make extra money for its good causes. When I met the priest, I was about to ask him, but he looked so young. I remembered that this is still the Year of Mercy, and stayed silent. This

Why the French favour secularism over appeasement in the fight to defeat Islamic extremism

In the apartment block next to mine in Paris there are two Muslim families. One I see often: the dad dresses in jeans and a t-shirt, and when the weather is good he’s in the park playing with his kids. So, too, the mum: a stylish woman who matches her headscarves to whatever else she wears with the effortless chic of a Parisian. I see less of the other family: the husband dresses in the white robes of a Salafist and never goes to the park with his child. I’ve seen his wife only once. The two families are emblematic of the fight France faces to defeat Islamic extremism. It will be

How the Democrats infiltrated the Catholic Church

Right-wing Americans see liberal conspiracies everywhere. Often their claims are fatuous — Donald Trump has just announced that the 2016 presidential election has been ‘rigged’ — and sometimes they incorporate poisonous myths about Jewish puppet masters. But liberals, like activists across the spectrum, do occasionally engage in co-ordinated plotting. The question is: what would a real liberal conspiracy — as opposed to some noxious far-right fantasy — look like, and how would it operate? Now we know, thanks to WikiLeaks. Two batches of documents — one leaked this month, one in August — show that top-level Democrats and their allies have successfully infiltrated the Catholic Church in order to advance

The Pope has tried to wave through communion for divorced-and-remarried

Pope Francis has just given implicit permission for many divorced-and-remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion. But he’s done so surreptitiously. Effectively, Francis has pulled a fast one on conservative cardinals who didn’t want the rules changed. Very fast, in this case. On 5 September, he received a copy of draft guidelines, written by the bishops of Buenos Aires, on giving communion to people in ‘irregular’ marriages. They were extremely liberal – off the charts in Catholic terms. The Pope gave them a ringing endorsement on the same day. That’s a big deal. But the whole business of communion for the divorced-and-remarried has become so complicated that this latest twist has gone largely unreported. The best attempt to unravel it all can

Va-t’en, Satan

What do you say to someone who is killing you? It is seldom possible to decide in advance. We are told that Fr Jacques Hamel, aged 85, murdered while saying Mass at Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray on 26 July, said, as his killers brought him to his knees to cut his throat: ‘Va-t’en, Satan.’ It is a reasonable thing to say, not necessarily identifying the attackers with Satan, just indicating that he is at work in the actions of the moment. Fr Hamel’s death reminded me strongly of that of St Thomas Becket at the hands of fellow Normans in 1170. Language had due importance on that occasion. Reginald FitzUrse, on breaking into the

Pope Francis says most marriages today are ‘invalid’. This is a disaster for the Catholic Church

Pope Francis, spiritual leader of a billion people, has just informed them that ‘the great majority’ of sacramental marriages are invalid because couples don’t go into them with the right intentions. He was speaking at a press conference in Rome. Here’s the context, from the Catholic News Agency (my emphases): ‘I heard a bishop say some months ago that he met a boy that had finished his university studies, and said “I want to become a priest, but only for 10 years”. It’s the culture of the provisional. And this happens everywhere, also in priestly life, in religious life,’ he said. ‘It’s provisional, and because of this the great majority of our

What seeing Thomas a Becket’s elbow taught me about the church

It’s not every day, you know, you get to see a bit of the elbow of Thomas a Becket. In fact, since 1538 when his bones were unceremoniously exhumed from their shrine at Canterbury, the chances have been pretty sparse. So if you haven’t been to catch up with that bit of the elbow which has just been returned from Hungary, now’s your chance: run and catch it. It was reunited with other reputed relics of Becket from Stonyhurst and St Magnus the Martyr in Cheapside earlier this week; it’s off to St Magnus’s today, Wednesday, for evensong and it will be returning to Westminster tomorrow to St Margaret’s church,

Catholic bishops split over Brexit as Archbishop accuses Osborne of ‘ludicrous’ scaremongering

Archbishop Peter Smith, the Catholic Archbishop of Southwark – whose diocese covers all of London south of the Thames – has accused George Osborne of ‘ludicrous’ scaremongering in the EU referendum. The Archbishop, talking to Vatican radio, does not explicitly say that he supports Brexit. His line is that he is ‘undecided how to vote’. But according to my sources, in private he has been telling ‘anyone who cares to listen’ that he favours the Out campaign. ‘It seems that Peter Smith wants to leave the EU – he’s made that very clear,’ a Catholic bishop tells me. Here’s an extract from the Catholic Herald report on Smith’s interview. It’s surprising and refreshing to

Even religious polemics can’t inject any life into the Brexit debate

Churches are generally ideal venues for public debates. But there’s a slight chance that a speech about the perils of EU membership will be interrupted by a homeless person doing a pee in the corner. At a debate on Christian responses to the EU at St James the Less church in Pimlico last night, Giles Fraser left off quoting his hero Tony Benn on the evil of unaccountable power in order to do his muscular Christian duty and help eject the man, who spluttered invective as he departed. Did I imagine it or did he shout ‘Fexit Brexit’? A bit earlier, his opponent Ben Ryan had set out an optimistic

The Spectator podcast: tax vs sex

To subscribe to The Spectator’s weekly podcast, for free, visit the iTunes store or follow us on SoundCloud. After the row over tax returns, are political scandals not what they used to be? Richard Littlejohn asks in his Spectator cover piece this week whether we’ve come a long way from the days of Christine Keeler and the Profumo Affair. Have we forgotten what a scandal is really about? Isabel Hardman is joined by Matthew Parris, author of Great Parliamentary Scandals, to discuss. As he puts it:- For quite a long time, sex was very delicious. I think we’re beginning to find tax and financial matters delicious too.’ Also on the Spectator podcast, Political Editor James

The devil in footnote 351

Last week we reached the beginning of the end of the pontificate of Jorge Bergoglio — the ‘great reformer’ of the Catholic church who, it appears, has been unable to deliver the reforms that he himself favours. This despite being Pope. On Friday, he published a 200-page ‘exhortation’ entitled Amoris Laetitia, ‘The Joy of Love’ (or ‘The Joy of Sex’, as English-speaking Catholics of a certain vintage immediately christened it). This was Francis’s long-awaited response to two Vatican synods on the family, in 2014 and last year, which descended into Anglican-style bickering between liberals and conservatives. At the heart of the disputes lay the question of whether divorced-and-remarried Catholics could

Pope Francis’s revolution has been cancelled

Here’s the beginning of the Guardian’s report on Amoris Laetitia (Joy of Love), Pope Francis’s response to the Synod on the Family: Pope Francis has called for the Catholic church to revamp its response to modern family life, striking a delicate balance between a more accepting tone towards gay people and the defence of traditional church teachings on issues such as abortion. In a landmark papal document entitled Amoris Laetitia (Joy of Love), Francis outlined his vision for the church on family issues, urging priests to respond to their communities without mercilessly enforcing church rules: “Each country or region, moreover, can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive

Sins of the fathers | 23 March 2016

A feature film about priests who abuse children is being released on 25 March. Which happens to be Good Friday. Geddit? The sacrifice of the innocents. A conspiracy of religious hierarchs. Hand-washing by the secular authorities. I’m sure I can think of some more analogies if you give me time, but that’s enough to be going on with. Enough, certainly, for the distributors to boast that the movie is ‘controversially slated to be released on Easter [sic] Good Friday’. As publicity stunts go, this isn’t subtle. But the film is. The Club, directed by the Chilean Pablo Larraín, sets out to perplex us from the first frame until the last.

Gays for God

The LGBT rights movement — so the story goes — has split the Christian churches in two. On one side are the progressives, who believe that Christianity should accept gay people and recognise gay marriage. Lined up against them are the conservatives, who hold fast to the belief that being gay is sinful. It’s not entirely false, that story. There are just a vast number of Christians who don’t fit into it. Ed Shaw is an evangelical pastor in Bristol and is gay — or, as he puts it, he ‘experiences same-sex attraction’. It’s a less misleading term, he tells me. ‘If I say to people in conversation, “I’m gay,”