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The campaign against the Pope and the Church will be swept away by the visit itself

But the campaign to defend them will, I hope, endure long after the visit is over

By on Wednesday, 15 September 2010

The Catholic Voices website is indispensable

The Catholic Voices website is indispensable

One probable long-term legacy from the papal visit was not, I have to admit, one I had foreseen. As the campaign against the Pope and the Church has gathered momentum, so has a parallel campaign to defend them, whether forcefully and with no holds barred (as in the Protect the Pope website), or coherently and persuasively on the broadcast media, as with Catholic Voices: all this will, I hope, remain in place after the visit is over.

Catholic Voices is a group of orthodox Catholics whose aim is to explain the faith by exemplifying Newman’s ideal (which you will find quoted in full at the foot of each page of its website) of “a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men [and women] who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it, who know so much of history that they can defend it…”

I know nothing of the origins of this outfit: I came across it first on Sunday, when as a result of attempting to defend (on Radio 5 Live – see my previous post) the practice of clerical celibacy in the teeth of a BBC poll of British Catholics which purported to show them considerably more against it than for it, I was asked two hours later if I would go immediately to a BBC TV studio to talk about the same thing on the BBC News channel. As this would have meant missing either Mass or Sunday lunch with my family or both I said no.

An hour later, as I preparing to leave the house to go to Church, I turned on the TV to see if they’d got someone else already, and they had: a young woman from Catholic Voices (whose name I missed), personable, well informed, competent, agreeable in manner, persuasive, who kept her calm admirably in the face of aggressive questioning and who won from the interviewer the closing accolade: “Thank you. That was very interesting.” It was a splendid performance, and probably better than anything I would have been able to pull off.

Their website is also indispensable. It tells me for instance (I wish I had known this on Sunday) that the poll on which I had to comment for BBC 5 Live (like a later poll for ITV, also showing a substantial rejection of papal teachings) had ignored a crucial distinction between practising and non-practising Catholics.

As Catholic Voices says: “If these were the results of a poll of weekly Mass-goers, then … hard-hitting questions could legitimately be asked. But practising Catholics are less than a million – that’s less than a fifth of the total number of self-described Catholics. So the questions fall flat. You would hardly expect lapsed Catholics to have views close to the Church’s teaching. In fact, you would largely expect their views to be identical with those of their non-Catholic neighbours. So this survey really shows nothing at all significant.”

It was ever thus: the little tricks of the broadcast media, and especially the BBC, were only to be expected. I confidently expect all that to be swept away by the visit itself.

  • paulpriest

    Mr Oddie: Your title's quite misleading given your article's content ; and although your optimism regarding the 'Catholic Voices' set up is admirable [and I will concede the presence of a few rhinestones in the ash] ; I feel a little further research regarding the group's capabilities and their media record will reveal a catalogue of embarassing ineptitude, ignorance of magisterial teachings, submission to calumnous accusations against His Holiness and ultimately gross negligence in defence of the Faith.
    Austen Ivereigh's articles over the recent months [together with CV's 'confidential' training resources] have been far from orthodox or authentically defensive of His Holiness; his and Jack Valero's media appearances have been either dismissively arrogant or submissively 'damning with weak defence/praise' [verging upon a deeply frustrating Vichyist masochism] or even exasperatingly counter-productive.
    One feels that they are planning a very long game where their ostensible ideological enemies are rather lucrative media sparring-partners with whom they should remain affable and thus be wary of saying anything too harsh or incisive which might offend or compromise their 'special relationship' [Remember 'Doctor' Ivereigh is friends with both Mark Dowd and Robert Piggot].

  • MG

    Just seen Austin on Sky arguing about the church and Child Abuse. I thought he did a great job and won the argument for the church. So much so that Sinead O'Conner a later guest felt the need to refer back to Austin's interview to try to counter his arguments. As he was not there to reply I tru stviewers would see it as unfair to attack someone who could not respond. Poor girl was terribly abused by her mother and not the church which somehow makes her an authority to speak on the church. Nevertheless, one's heart really does go out to these abused victims, what they have had to endue is unspeakably evil. We must pray for them and turn that prayer into action.

  • Robinleslie

    It might be a good idea for Catholic Voices to go into the parishes and hold debating sessions for this would almost certainly deepen and improve the laity's understanding and articulation of the faith and of its encounters with

    the closed and closing world of exclusive humanism. This is both a testing time to live for Catholics and an opportunity to deepen the Church's mystical life, which, after all is its jewel in the crown.

  • SS1

    Paul Priest's negativity is disappointing – these people are doing their best to speak up with courage for Christ and His Church, and to engage with the media and the wider public.

    People should go to the Catholic Voices website and judge for themselves whether the participants are giving good and faithful witness. In my view the answer is a resounding YES.

  • AndyFrankophile

    I feel desperately sorry for the Pope and his close aides at the appalling campaign led by the usual suspects in the press and the BBC. I think it is important to stress that the injury to the Pope and to the Vatican is terribly painful to ordinary catholics as well. I used to be firmly convinced that the UK was instinctively tolerant and sympathetic. I now understand how ordinary muslims must feel at the insults they receive; I would be amazed if it affected peoples' faith but it must take some of the joy out of life. As from all suffering some good may come of it; whether any good for our poor suffering country, we can only pray.

  • Jimmy

    Just watching Channel 4 News, first item – priests abusing children – implied that the pope is responsible. I am tired of the hatred being expressed by the British media towards the Pope – naked hatred. All of this makes the British people look very bad in the world – a country still infected by the anti-Catholicism which led to dreadful bloodshed and oppression down the centuries. Ironically, as the British media play the abuse card, they ignore the horrendous abuse carried out in state schools and institutions. Let's hope the fair-minded people of Britain will come out and show that the media do not represent them. At least HM the Queen, always gracious, will afford him a warm welcome.

  • Xtopep

    Yeah whatever and Walter Kasper has just advanced the cause.

    When witll the vaticn stop embarrasing ordinary catholics?

  • paulpriest

    Nobody is questioning the good intentions of the Catholic Voices team ; but I strongly question both the adequacy/orthodoxy/efficacy of the training and the motives of the trainers [their media appearances/journal articles & the despairingly poor content within their 'confidential' briefing notes] which I repeat seems less interested in defending either the Faith or His Holiness , and more in constructing some long-term tenure as commentators…hence the refusal to enter into head-on debate with opponents [notice that the blogosphere is rife with Tatchell's pro-paedophilia record while from the CVs comes naught - they don't wish to upset a long-term lucrative 'stage-adversary']

    Look elsewhere and who has been fighting the sneering and much-followed secularist anti-papal celebrities ? The bloggers
    Who has been fighting Johan Harri and other anti-Papal media hacks with hard evidence refuting their calumnies? The bloggers
    Who took the fight to the mainstream secularist activists like Goldacre, Crispian Jago, David Allen Green and members of the secularist and humanist societies etc? the bloggers – to such an extent that many activist groups on the hard left now refuse to endorse the activities of the protest the Pope campaign ?
    Who defended the Birmingham three while Jack Valero sold them down the swanny ? the bloggers
    Who investigated the conference cock-ups in organising the papal visit – in time for the situation to be remedied by government and vatican intervention ? The bloggers
    Who has been fighting the Standup4vatican2 [a cover-organisation for the notorious we are church brigade] since they started and before they became 'catholic voices before reform' while Jack Valero reassured us all that these people were 'nothing – just old people waiting around to die' [unquote] ? The bloggers…

    ..while Catholic Voices have smiled at the interviewers and proffered pious innocuous platitudes and sound-bites….

    Within the past hour there has yet again been online references to 'secret documents' ordering 'pontifical silence under the pain of excommunication' for the victims/families of clerical abuse

    Catholic Voices blog's response is embarassingly devoid of any substantive evidence to repudiate this utterly specious calumny.

    Other bloggers and myself have consistently had to inform members of the CV team that this is simply not the case ; and that the 2001 document de delictis gravioribus reiterates the 1962 Crimens Solicitationis that all abuse must be reported within 14 days under the pain of excommunication and the pontifical secret in no way prevents reporting of the offences to the civic authorities ; and far from being a 'secret' document [as reported by C Hitchens, Fry, Jon Snow, Tatchell, Harri, Dawkins etc] de delictis gravioribus was published on the Vatican website in 5 different languages and published in hard copy in the Vatican's Acta Apostolicae Sedis for all to read….

    Members of CV have actualy approached a fellow blogger requesting supplementary briefing notes on the issue given the deplorably ill-informed piece of hackery with which they were provided on the relevant issues [which is available on request] which didn't even bother to mention the documents; let alone analyse them !

    Giving good and faithful witness ?
    I'm certain the team are doing their limited best [we've only had a few absolute train-wrecks of interviews/debates from them - and the blame most certainly cannot be lain at their doorstep] ;
    but their co-ordinators?
    I'm sure Catholics across the land were pulling their hair out in exasperation when Jack Valero ludicrously referred to endemic child abuse across the land on Sunday ; as if that excused clerical abuse ?
    It's not the first major gaffe either – when Francis Campbell risked his job by leaking that despicably anti-Catholic FCO memo how did JV respond ? “Eesa joke!!!”
    Remember too that Jack Valero swore that Catholic Voices would be primarily orthodox and truly representative of Ordinary Catholics across the land – check out CV's cvs to see how representative they are.

    And regarding the main villain in this tragedy/comedy of errors: SS1 I have to ask you – in all sincerity :
    Have you read [plagiarism aside] anything he's written in recent month ?
    [and that's before any reference to his personal 'foibles' or virulent character-assassinations]

    Yes I will concede that I have a personal bias against Dr Ivereigh as I consider him a renegade opportunistic auto-erotic residue – but I should ask anyone who does not share my antipathy to the gentleman merely make the most peripheral of references to his articles or his tv/radio interviews and you'll soon discover that this person is a dangerous liability with whom we could all do well without.

  • GFFM

    Just read the letter by “50 Luminaries” protesting the Pope's visit. The likes of Richard Dawkins, Philip Pullman and Terry Pratchett, Stephen Fry, Ken Follett and Baroness Turner. I have never considered any of them luminaries–in fact quite the opposite. There isn't a luminary in the bunch. Who have they ever illumined–it's all so tired, unseemly, priggish, and shrill. Dawkins is practically apoplectic. Pullman's fiction is boring and preachy But, on the other hand, this group of “intellectuals” simply cannot let Benedict's visit pass because they know how much it means and how significant it is for a great many people in Britain. So much for the “tolerance” of the “new humanist.” A nerve has been struck. Their reaction is a kind of negative witness to the Church's authority in the world.

  • Seaon Burckley Van-Sertima

    I can understand that some people are concerned by certain of Peter
    Tatchell's writings on under-age sex. But I don't think you have given
    a fair and accurate picture of what Tatchell is saying and why he is
    saying it. The quotes you cite from Tatchell are too selective and
    partial. You quote too many of his words out of context.

    Tatchell offers a different explanation, which I am posting below. I
    hope you might engage with what he is actually saying.

    Peter Tatchell writes:

    The idea that I advocate paedophilia is laughable, sick, untrue and defamatory.

    Unlike many Catholic clergy, I have never abused anyone. Unlike the
    Pope, I have never failed to report abusers or covered up their
    crimes. I do not support sex with children. Full stop.

    Dares to Speak was an academic book published in 1997, authored by
    professors, anthropologists, psychologists, a Dutch senator and a
    former editor of a Catholic newspaper. It questioned ages of consent
    and whether all sex between children and adults is necessarily

    I do not condone adults having sex with children. My Guardian letter
    about this book was in defence of free speech and open debate about
    the issue, in opposition to those who said that the book and the
    debate it generated should not happen and should be closed down. I was
    against calls for censorship. Even if Dares to Speak is entirely
    wrong, in a free society its authors have a right to be published and

    My Guardian letter cited examples of Papuan tribes and some of my
    friends who had sex with adults while they were still children, but
    who do not feel they were harmed. I was not endorsing their viewpoint
    but merely stating that they had a different perspective from the
    mainstream one about inter-generational sex. They have every right for
    their perspective to be heard. If they say they were not harmed, we
    should respect that (while also recognising that many people are
    harmed by early sexual experiences).

    My Guardian letter did say very clearly that paedophilia is
    “impossible” to condone – meaning that I don't condone it.

    Here's an example of what he wrote in the Irish Independent last year:

    Irish Independent – 10 March 2008

    “The time has come for a calm, rational debate about the age of
    consent. It should be premised on four aims. First, protecting young
    people against sex abuse. Second, empowering them to make wise,
    responsible sexual choices. Third, removing the legal obstacles to
    earlier, more effective sex education. Fourth, ensuring better
    contraception and condom provision to prevent unwanted pregnancies and
    abortions and to cut the spread of sexual infections like HIV.”

    You can see that he made protecting young people against sex abuse his
    first priority.

    he has said similar things in many other articles and interviews.

    See this Guardian article, published in September last year:

    It is true that I support reducing the legal consent age to 14. But I
    support 14 in order to end the criminalisation of the many young
    people who have sexual contact with each other from this age onwards.
    More than half of all British teenagers have their first sexual
    experience (not necessarily full intercourse) at around the age of 14.
    I do not advocate them having sex at this early age. It is best if
    they wait. But I don’t think that consenting 14 years olds should be
    dragged to court and threatened with prison. I certainly do not
    endorse adults having sex with young people aged 14.

    My critics may disagree with me on the age of consent, but I have
    advocated a clear ethical stance and moral framework, which stresses
    sex with mutual consent, respect and fulfilment. My arguments and
    articles are not about abusing young people but protecting them.
    That's my motive.

    The critics also cite Warren Middleton's 1980s book, to which I
    contributed a chapter. But my chapter did not endorse child sex. It
    merely questioned whether 16 was the appropriate legal age of consent.
    There are many countries that have a different age of consent, some
    higher and some lower than 16. I was not aware what the other authors
    wrote until the book was published. I should not be blamed me for what
    they said. It is wrong to tar me with their opinions.

    My critics also cite an interview / article I did with 14 year old Lee
    in the late 1990s where he said that he had sex with adults when he
    was a child and that he does not feel that he was abused.

    This was a journalistic piece designed to let him have his say and,
    through him, to give a glimpse into what many young people think about
    the age of consent and its pitfalls. My critics seem to believe that
    young people's opinions should not be heard if they disagree with
    their moral perspectives. I call that censorship.

    In the interview with Lee, I nevertheless challenged his view in
    various ways, including making these points:

    “How can a young child understand sex and give meaningful consent?

    “Perhaps your friends were particularly mature for their age. Most
    young people are not so sophisticated about sex.

    “Many people worry that the power imbalance in a relationship between
    a youth and an adult means the younger person can be easily
    manipulated and exploited.

    “Many people fear that making sex easier for under-age teenagers will
    expose them to dangers like HIV. Isn't that a legitimate worry?

  • Princehorus

    On Pope Benedict, Richard Dawkins and Arrest

  • pooka

    You seem to be wanting your cake and it's eating. When the cost to the tax-payer is challenged, we're told there are 6m Catholics in the UK; when it comes to surveys the line is that there are only 1m real Catholics. Which is it?

    Just had a look at the Catholic Voices website – what a posh lot they are, and overwhelmingly White. Perhaps they feel that well-modulated, Home Counties Catholic Voices will counter lingering suspicion, in middle England, of Catholicism as Johnny Foreigner's religion, all those unwashed immigrants marching to Rome's drum and all that. Bad move that their chief oppo is so overtly southern european, broken accent and all.