Saturday, 27 February 2010

Prayer is urgently needed for Britain

The prayers of people of all faiths are greatly needed in Britain as we continue our fight against the sex and relationships proposals in the government's Children Schools and Families bill.  Ed Balls, the Secretary of State for Children Schools and Families, made clear this week that one of the purposes of the Bill is that in all schools, including faith schools, schoolchildren must have access to abortion. This is, arguably, the greatest advance in the culture of death in Britain since the passage of the Abortion Act in 1967.  The Government's bill is being given the general support of the Catholic Education Service, an agency of the Catholic bishops of England and Wales.

I'm pleased to draw the attention of Catholic visitors to the events below in London next month. For Catholics, Our Lady of Guadalupe has a special role as patroness of the unborn.  I hope that as many as possible to pray for our children, our country and, as a Catholic myself, for our bishops at this critical time.


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Friday, 26 February 2010

SPUC threatens Northern Ireland health department with legal action over re-issued abortion guidance

SPUC has threatened the health department in Northern Ireland with further legal action following its decision to re-issue an edited version of the abortion guidance deemed unlawful by the high court last year.

Our solicitors have written to the health minister notifying him that the Society will seek a second judicial review if the guidance is not withdrawn. We argue that the High Court identified serious flaws in the way the guidance dealt with counselling for women and the right of doctors not to participate in abortions. Lord Justice Girvan, who rejected a request to allow an edited version to remain in operation, ordered the department to withdraw the guidance in full.

The letter from our lawyers describes the department's latest move as "irrational or perverse".

Liam Gibson of SPUC Northern Ireland told the media this morning:
"It’s simply irrational and perverse for the department of health to re-issue its guidance on abortion law without giving any weight to the High Court's findings. It was clear from Lord Justice Girvan’s judgement on 30 November that the guidance ought to be withdrawn as a whole, not just in part. Any doubt about this was removed on 14 December when the judge rejected the department's request merely to cut two sections from the document. The judge accepted SPUC's argument that the guidance was not made up of hermetically-sealed sections but the issues it dealt with were inter-related.

"Allowing the re-issued guidance to stand could be seriously misleading and might result in grave injustices taking place. It could suggest that there is no right of non-participation in abortion, that counselling is unimportant, or that there is no guidance which can usefully be given on either of these matters.

"SPUC is calling on the department to withdraw the guidance immediately. We are prepared to go back to court to make sure that it is withdrawn."
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Thursday, 25 February 2010

SPUC criticises Archbishop Smith's "welcome" of assisted suicide guidelines

Peter Smith (pictured), archbishop of Cardiff, who speaks on pro-life matters on behalf of the Catholic bishops of England and Wales, has said today that he "welcome[s]" new guidelines on assisted suicide published today by Keir Starmer, the director of public prosecutions (DPP). Archbishop Smith highlighted positive changes in the guidelines and made no mention of any negative aspects.

Paul Tully of SPUC Pro-Life, which was officially represented before the courts in the Debbie Purdy case, told the media this evening:
"Archbishop Smith's comments are very disturbing. It seems he may be suggesting that disabled people are better protected now than they were before the interim guidelines issued last September.

"While today's final guidelines certainly appear to have eliminated some of the worst aspects of the interim guidelines, today's guidelines retain many damaging elements. Today's guidelines fail to mention relevant factors from the general Code for Crown Prosecutors, which tells prosecutors that a victim's disability or vulnerability are factors that should weigh in favour of a prosecution. The element of implicit discrimination is more subtle, but it is still there.

"Furthermore, today's guidelines still represent a significant shift towards judging the suspect's motive ("compassion") in committing the crime, rather than his/her intention (to help cause death). This shift clearly undermines the protection that the law affords to those who might commit suicide, and leaves prosecutors with a very difficult task, when faced with relatives who claim to be grief-stricken by the death of someone they loved, but helped to commit suicide."
As I mentioned last week, Archbishop Smith, on behalf of the bishops' conference, publicly opposed SPUC's campaign on the pro-euthanasia Mental Capacity bill (now Act), welcomed the bill, accepted the government's assurances on the bill, and co-operated with the government in ensuring its passage through parliament. The Act enshrines in statute law euthanasia by neglect.

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DPP guidelines blunt assisted suicide ban

New guidelines published today by Keir Starmer (pictured), the director of public prosecutions (DPP) blunt the law against assisted suicide.

Paul Tully of SPUC Pro-Life, which was officially represented before the courts in the Debbie Purdy case, told the media this morning:
"It is not credible for Keir Starmer to claim that he has not relaxed prosecuting policy on assisted suicide. The new policy effectively decriminalises assisted suicide in a wide range of circumstances.

"Assisting suicide is wrong in itself, not merely because there may be coercion or ulterior motives involved. The intentional killing of the innocent is always wrong.

"Mr Starmer has said today: 'The case of Purdy did not change the law, nor does this Policy, and suggestions to the contrary are simply wrong.' Mr Starmer cannot make this true just by saying it. He must demonstrate his determination to bring prosecutions that euthanasia-sympathisers in the media will dislike. Such prosecutions will be used to generate vitriol against him by the euthanasia lobby in the BBC and other media and in the judiciary. We saw this in the recent case of Lynn Gilderdale and Mr Justice Bean.

"The focus on motivation (why the suspect assisted a suicide) rather than intention (the suspect's deliberate will to assist the suicide) is a radical departure from the rule of law. The 'victim’s wish to die' is the most significant factor now in the guidelines. It undermines the law, and is the main concession that the euthanasia lobby was seeking. It makes assisted suicide very different from other serious crimes against the person, where consent to becoming a victim is not accepted either as a defence in court or as a factor against prosecution.

"The fact that references to disability have been eliminated will be something of a relief to disabled people and their families, and this eliminates one of the anomalies between this offence-specific code and the general code for Crown Prosecutors. However, the disabled and chronically ill remain the most likely victims of this weakening of the right to life."
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SPUC responds to bishop’s conference consultation on care of the dying

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales (CBCEW) issued earlier this month a draft document: “A practical guide to the spiritual care of the dying person”. They have invited comments, to be submitted by Friday 26th February - by email to asta.radziunaite@cbcew.org.uk

Here is a link to the news release about the draft document, and here is the draft document itself.

I think that the guidance has many good points in it, but it also raises serious concerns because of its very strong promotion of the controversial Liverpool Care Pathway.

Even before the document gets started, it brings up the Liverpool Care Pathway and in a totally uncritical way presents it as the optimum way of caring for the dying. There is passing mention of hospices, but the Pathway has centre stage here.

I think it is a mistake to endorse it so strongly and unreservedly.

Like so many aspects of medical care today, the Pathway has become something of a political totem – the vehicle by which the Department of Health can claim it is advancing palliative care without the investment of building or supporting more hospices. The fact that it could be said to be championing a bargain basement kind of palliative care makes it a questionable move.

When patients are put on the Pathway, care is managed by ticking boxes, meaning less attention may be given to patients’ personal needs. The Pathway has been strongly criticised by experts like geriatrician Professor Peter Millard and others who have noted instances of improper use.

Many have pointed out that the Pathway amounts to ‘tick-box’ medicine, when individualised care is needed in the final stages of life.

Putting the Pathway into action depends on a diagnosis that death is approaching and that the person has begun “the dying phase”. This can be a difficult call, even for palliative specialists. Some versions of the Pathway give this task to a multidisciplinary team, none of whom may be experts in the final stages of life. How accurate are these decisions? And this is a critical decision. For most patients once a diagnosis of being in the dying phase has been made, the Pathway leads inexorably to death. In a few cases, reassessment leads to the pathway being abandoned. By suggesting tacitly that food and fluid may be withheld there is a risk that it may lead to terminal sedation – a practice now widely recognised as hastening death.

Elderly patients, or those with brain injuries or stroke and others may need to receive food and fluids by tube either temporarily or for a more extended time. This doesn’t always mean they are dying, but they are dependent on a tube for food and fluids. The bishops refer to this as clinically assisted nutrition and hydration (CANH). It is critical that nurses and doctors as well as relatives should have good care in such situations, and the Pathway could be a serious threat to such patients.

But the guidance document confuses the issue. At one point it says that CANH is not a medical treatment – at least, not like most other treatments.

But what about patients who decline medical treatment by a living will? The bishops' guidance says that patients have a legal right to refuse CANH, and for this purpose, it counts as a treatment. If that’s the case, a living will which says “I don’t want any medical treatment, just keep me comfortable,” could lead to a person being starved to death. This issue is not specifically canvassed in the bishops' document, but it is only a short step from what the document says to endorsing passive euthanasia.

The bishops’ document has a lot to say about medical, as opposed to spiritual, care. No doubt doctors were prominent in drafting it. When it comes to spiritual issues, however, some Catholics have spoken to me highly of it, and others have noted a weakness in the way the sacraments are treated.

Section 1.5.11 (about praying with patients) seems to suggest that hoping or praying for a person’s conversion would be wrong, which seems a very weak position to take – especially in view of the Caroline Petrie case – the nurse vindicated after offering to pray with a patient. Putting undue pressure on a person would be wrong of course, but praying for patients is surely right. I’ll certainly pray for the bishops’ conversion over the points I’ve mentioned above.

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Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Bishops' agency gives yet more cover for government's sex education agenda

Following last night's Commons vote for the government's sex education bill, the Catholic Education Service (CES) has issued a statement. The statement effectively repeats its endorsement of the government's worthless amendment on faith schools, and adds:
"The teaching of all aspects of the curriculum in Catholic schools reflects their religious ethos. In the same way, the SRE in Catholic schools will be rooted in the Catholic Church’s teaching of the profound respect for the dignity of all human persons."
Neither sentence is true. The first statement,
"The teaching of all aspects of the curriculum in Catholic schools reflects their religious ethos"
would be laughable if its deceitfulness was not a matter of the gravest scandal. This CES claim was debunked by the government itself in a departmental media release last week. The release cited St Thomas More school, Bedford, as a good example of how Catholic schools are already facilitating abortion and contraception, in line with the government's demands.

The government's draft SRE guidance - which the CES both welcomed and helped draft - recommends "All that I am", the sex education programme started by the archdiocese of Birmingham under Vincent Nichols, then CES chairman and now archbishop of Westminster. Fr John Fleming, SPUC's bioethical consultant, tells me that:
"The content of the Birmingham programme in relation to homosexuality* is difficult to reconcile with the fullness of Catholic moral teaching."
In 2006, Mac McLernon, a teacher at a Catholic comprehensive school for boys and girls in Kent, spoke out publicly against the sex education given to her class of 13- to 14-year-old children. Not only were the children given obscene lessons in how to use condoms, but they were given the clearest possible instructions on how to access abortion and contraception.

The CES's claim reminds me of a similar (and similarly fictitious) claim made in 2005 by Dr Austen Ivereigh, then director of public affairs to Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, in a letter to The Catholic Herald:
"[T]here is no Catholic school in Britain, joint or otherwise, in which Catholic children are being taught less than the Catholic faith in its integrity."
The other sentence from last night's CES statement
"the SRE in Catholic schools will be rooted in the Catholic Church’s teaching of the profound respect for the dignity of all human persons"
has also been spectacularly debunked the government. Apart from Ed Ball's clear statements yesterday, the government last night indicated a further totalitarian-style interference in Catholic school teaching. Harry Cohen, a Labour backbencher, asked Vernon Coaker (pictured), junior minister for schools:
"Will my hon. Friend assure me that no faith school teacher will be allowed to spread long-term fear among children by telling them that if they subsequently have an abortion or partake in homosexuality they will end up going to hell?"
Mr Coaker replied:
"Of course I can give my hon. Friend that assurance."
Now, let me first say that Mr Cohen presented a caricature of solid pro-life/pro-family teaching in faith schools. Such teaching does not, and should not, "spread long-term fear" about "going to hell". Catholic pro-life/pro-family teaching in fact gives hope to children, born and unborn, in this life and for the next. Also, Catholic teaching is clear (CCC 1861) that:
"[A]lthough we can judge that an act is in itself a grave offense, we must entrust judgment of persons to the justice and mercy of God." 
That said, Catholic teaching is also clear that:
  • "Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense" (CCC 2272)
  • "Among the sins gravely contrary to chastity [are] homosexual practices." (CCC 2396)
  • "Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God's law" (CCC 1855)
  • "To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called "hell."" (CCC 1033)
Mr Coaker's reply to Mr Cohen is yet another example of just how false is the CES's claim that:
"Catholic schools will be entitled to continue to teach this subject in accordance with the teaching of the Catholic Church" (letters, Catholic Herald, 4 February 2010)
Opposition to the government's plans has also been stunted by the All-Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group (APPPLG). Jim Dobbin, its chairman, circulated the CES's fallacies among MPs and voted for the bill last night. Before the debate, Claire Curtis-Thomas, the group's pro-abortion vice-chair, wrote to local SPUC supporters yesterday telling them that she would not be supporting opposition amendments which sought to lessen the harm of the government's proposals.

Yet again Scottish Cardinal Keith O'Brien has, in contrast to his English and Welsh counterparts, spoken the truth with clarity and courage, saying last night:
"[W]e have witnessed this Government undertake a systematic and unrelenting attack on family values."
SPUC will likewise not flinch in speaking truth to power, whether it be to our government or to its cooperators within the Catholic establishment.

*(The reason why the Catholic Church's teaching on homosexuality is so important for the pro-life cause can be found in Pope John Paul II's Evangelium Vitae. In paragraph 97, Pope John Paul teaches that it is an illusion to think that we can build a true culture of human life if we do not offer adolescents and young adults an authentic education in sexuality, and in love, and the whole of life according to their true meaning and in their close interconnection.)

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Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Commons vote for sex ed bill is deplorable

This evening the House of Commons gave the Children, Schools and Families bill a third reading, by 268 votes in favour to 177 votes against. The bill now goes to the House of Lords. Commenting on the sex education proposals in the bill, Paul Tully, SPUC’s general secretary, told the media this evening:
“This is a dire result for school-children and for unborn children who are in the firing­-line of this bill. They are the ones who will bear inordinate suffering and death as a result of schools being compelled to promote abortion and the sexualisation of teenagers. 

“Ed Balls, the schools secretary, made clear this morning that the intention of his sex education proposals in the Children, Schools and Families bill is to make all schools, including faith schools, teach children how to use and where to obtain birth control and abortion.

“These are the key ‘advertising’ messages that the pro-abortion lobby is fighting to have promoted throughout the education system – where children can be influenced and corrupted without parental guidance or protection.

“The sexualisation of children in schools goes further than this, however. Already, parents are being kept in the dark about sexual health interventions on their children – whether birth control (drugs, implants or devices), STI/HIV tests and treatment, or abortion, being provided via the school system.

“Using the education system to by-pass parents and corrupt their children – especially those under the age of consent - is a grave abuse of power by the state.

“Many people will be especially appalled that both the National Society of the Church of England and the education service of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference have endorsed the provisions of the bill. Mr Balls made much of the support for the bill by Archbishop Nichols, and we have called upon the Archbishop, and other faith leaders to reconsider their support even at this late stage.”
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Mother of six begs archbishop to reverse support for sex ed bill

Further to my blog earlier today ("Faith schools must promote abortion, Ed Balls confirms"), Antonia Tully, mother of six school-age children, and co-ordinator of SPUC's Safe at School campaign, said:
"We beg Archbishop Nichols, and other religious leaders, to back parents, whether Catholic or of other faiths, who refuse to allow their children to be subjected to what the government's bill demands.

"Archbishop Nichols must say whether schools should do what Ed Balls demands  - tell children how to access abortion and where to get, and how to use, contraception. Or will the archbishop tell schools to resist - even though they may risk legal action, losing Ofsted accreditation, or even losing hard-won state funding?

"SPUC urges all faith leaders to speak out in oppostion to Mr Balls' demands, assuring parents that this is not going to happen in their schools. Teachers and school governors need an assurance that their faith leaders will defend them when they refuse to be complicit in arranging abortions, promoting contraception or deceiving parents.

"The legislation and guidance enforcing this have been drawn up with the advice and support of the Catholic Education Service (CES), headed by Oona Stannard.

"Archbishop Nichols was chairman of the Catholic Education Service and Archbishop of Birmingham when that archdiocese drew up a sex education programme, with funding support from the government. That programme, "All that I am", included instruction for children in a wide range of contraceptives, including many believed to induce early abortions. Will he now have that programme withdrawn?"
I have written this afternoon to Archbishop Nichols calling on him to reverse the support of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales for the bill.

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Faith schools must promote abortion, Ed Balls confirms

Ed Balls (pictured, with Oona Stannard of the Catholic Education Service (CES) and Vincent Nichols, archbishop of Westminster), secretary of state for Children, Schools and Families, has spoken this morning on BBC Radio 4's Today programme on his sex education bill, which will be debated later today in the House of Commons (please read and act upon SPUC's latest campaign alert). Mr Balls has also writtten a letter on the same subject, published in today's Times newspaper.

Here's some of what Mr Balls said on the Today programme (my emphases in bold):
  • "If you are currently a Catholic school ... you could choose to teach only to children that contraception is wrong, homosexuality is wrong. That changes radically with this bill." (at 06:30 mins)
  • "A Catholic faith school can say to their pupils we believe as a religion contraception is wrong but what they can't do is therefore say that they are not going to teach them about contraception to children, how to access contraception, or how to use contraception. What this changes is that for the first time these schools cannot just ignore these issues or teach only one side of the argument. They also have to teach that there are different views on homosexuality. They cannot teach homophobia. They must explain civil partnership. They must give a balanced view on abortion, they must give both sides of the argument, they must explain how to access an abortion, the same is true on contraception as well." (from 07:20 to 08:47 mins)
  • "To have the support of the Catholic Church and Archbishop Nichols in these changes is, I think, very, very important, is a huge step forward." (at 09:05 mins)
  • "[Catholic schools] cannot teach that homosexuality is wrong and that therefore it is OK to discriminate on homosexuality" (at 10:42 mins)
  • "[T]he Catholic Church, which I really welcome, is supporting, for the first time, compulsory sex education with an opt out at 15" (at 12:25 mins) (JS: Mr Balls knows that the opt-out i.e. parental right to withdraw children from SRE classes, ends at 15, not starts. Also, what is unappreciated is that no child of any age will be able to withdraw themselves from SRE.)
In Mr Balls's Times letter, among other things he says (my emphases in bold):
"[S]tatutory lessons on sex and relationship education...includes education about contraception and the importance of stable relationships, including marriage and civil partnerships. It will not allow the teaching of homophobia. All maintained schools and academies will be required to teach the full programmes of study. This includes promoting equality and encouraging acceptance of diversity ... The bottom line is that...discrimination is prevented in all schools."
Mr Balls's statements today not only confirm, but add further truth to the warnings that SPUC has been issuing for months about the government's plans - and the English and Welsh Catholic bishops' complicity in those plans. Please make sure that you have read and acted upon SPUC's latest campaign alert on the Commons debate later today.

(P.S. The reason why the Catholic Church's teaching on homosexuality is so important for the pro-life cause can be found in Pope John Paul II's Evangelium Vitae. In paragraph 97, Pope John Paul teaches that it is an illusion to think that we can build a true culture of human life if we do not offer adolescents and young adults an authentic education in sexuality, and in love, and the whole of life according to their true meaning and in their close interconnection.)

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Monday, 22 February 2010

New amendment to sex education bill - act now

Tomorrow (Tue 23 Feb.) is the the final main day (report stage and third reading) in the House of Commons on the government's sex education bill. (The bill has yet to be debated in the House of Lords.) The Conservative opposition has tabled a new amendment (no.60) which seeks to exclude sex and relationships education (SRE) from primary schools.

Please email or telephone your MP immmediately to urge him/her to:
  • sign and support amendments 2 and 60, tabled by the Conservative opposition for report-stage, and
  • vote against the bill as a whole at third reading. Please read SPUC's latest campaign alert for more information and please act straight away.
The danger posed by the Children, Schools and Families (CSF) bill to both born and unborn children - and the Catholic Education Service (CES)'s betrayal of them, which I have focused upon in my recent blogging - is causing Catholic priests and concerned laity to speak out courageously.

Fr Timothy Finigan, founder of the Association of Priests for the Gospel of Life (APGL) condemned the government's so-called assurances as:
"woolly language designed to hide a totalitarian agenda ... The relativism of Ed Balls and his friends who are setting the agenda for secular Britain is actually only applied to the "views" they disagree with, such as Catholic moral teaching on the sanctity of life, marriage, and the procreation of children ... Ed Balls and the DCSF have expertly exploited the weakness of the Catholic Church in England and Wales in its witness to the teaching of the magisterium. The constant support of the CES for its legislation, and the availability of examples such as the school described, enable the Government to take credit for preserving Catholic schools while effectively outlawing Catholic moral teaching in those schools."
Fr Marcus Holden, the co-founder of the (pro-life/pro-family) Evangelium project:
"Having consulted several influential priests and education experts, it seems to me that such laws, if introduced, may spell the end of official Catholic schools in state aided education. What most concerns me, however, is the unethical imposition of a sexual ideology upon our children and their families." 
Fr John Boyle of Ashford, Kent:
"I am afraid I have given up on the CES"
"E F Pastor Emeritus", a priest of Southwark archdiocese:
"[C]ommitted Catholics should refuse to contribute anything to the CES collection".
Mac McLernon, a Catholic teacher:
"The Catholic Education Service is a complete disgrace ... And, once again, SPUC has done a first class job of debunking the latest attempts of the CES to claim credit for getting the Government to back down on the CSF Bill ... [T]he CES...appears to be nothing more than a mouthpiece for the latest Government education policy."
I think these reactions speak volumes about who really speaks for Catholic pro-life/pro-family teaching in England and Wales.

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Sunday, 21 February 2010

Fr Euteneuer, head of Human Life International, celebrates Mass and speaks in London this evening

Fr Euteneuer (pictured), president of Human Life International, is in London today. This evening he is coming to Harrow in north London, my neck of the woods, to celebrate Mass at the home of the Daverns.

John and Peggy Davern lead a wonderful Catholic prayer group which is totally committed to praying for the spread of the Gospel of life. Such people work, in my view, in the engine room of the pro-life movement.

Josephine, my wife, and I, have been members of John and Peggy's prayer group for almost twenty years.

Fr. Euteneuer has travelled more than one million miles as a pro-life missionary and has visited fifty-seven countries. I greatly admire the work of Human Life International which has affiliate offices and associates in eighty countries around the world. These last few days Fr Euteneuer has been with the leaders of Human Life International in the Republic of Ireland where the pro-life movement fights a continuous valiant battle against the combined forces of the media, the judiciary, and the body politic which are poised slavishly to promote the western world's anti-life practices. To read more about that daily battle visit Pat Buckley, European Life Network.

I'm looking forward to being at the Daverns this evening for Mass and to hear Fr Euteneuer's perspective on the state of the pro-life battle in Ireland.

Mass this evening at the Daverns will be at 7 p.m.. If you live, or know anyone who lives, in or near Harrow, do join us. Whether or not you're a Catholic, contact me at johnsmeaton@spuc.org.uk and I will be delighted to give you directions to the Daverns if you would like to join us.

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