A week or two ago, I referred to “the great conundrum, for the English Church, about the reign of John Paul II: why was it, when he had appointed most of our bishops, did nearly all of them go out of their way to undermine his vision for the Church?” Now, perhaps the greatest and most persistent example of this undermining of John Paul’s teaching has been the English bishops’ failure, over the years, collectively to oppose abortion and euthanasia as they should have been opposed.
And perhaps the most grotesque and cynical example of this phenomenon is in the annual Day for Life, which year after year has in this country been about anything but what Pope John Paul, when he called for its annual observance, intended that it should be about. This is how Pope John Paul launched the Day for Life, in Evangelium Vitae (§85):
I propose that a Day for Life be celebrated each year in every country, as already established by some Episcopal Conferences. The celebration of this Day should be planned and carried out with the active participation of all sectors of the local Church. Its primary purpose (my emphasis) should be to foster in individual consciences, in families, in the Church and in civil society a recognition of the meaning and value of human life at every stage and in every condition. Particular attention should be drawn to the seriousness of abortion and euthanasia, without neglecting other aspects of life which from time to time deserve to be given careful consideration, as occasion and circumstances demand.
With breathtaking cynicism, the bishops’ spokespersons at the bureaucracy of the Bishops’ Conference in Eccleston Square have misused that phrase “without neglecting other aspects of life” as a means of actually excluding the “primary purpose” of the day: year after year, “the seriousness of abortion and euthanasia” has been mostly ignored (though not completely – that really would have been a stretch; they did talk about it in 2007).
This year, the presumably Olympics-inspired theme of the Day for Life (July 29) “highlights”, we are informed, “the importance of good health, care for our bodies and the importance of exercise and sporting activity.” There are plenty of quotes from the present Pope and his predecessor, to make it look as though rather than undermining papal teaching they are conveying it: but these quotes mostly give the expression “out of context” a whole new meaning. For instance, the Day for Life website quotes (as part of the 2012 “message”) Pope John Paul explaining that “the body can never be reduced to mere matter: it is a spiritualised body, just as man’s spirit is so closely united to the body that he can be described as an embodied spirit”. The Pope (but not Eccleston Square) goes on to say that “the richest source for knowledge of the body is the Word made flesh. Christ reveals man to himself”. What Eccleston Square claims it means is that “it is through my body that I express myself. It is through my body that I experience the world and others know who I am. It is through my body that I express my love for others and I experience God’s love and the love of others for me. Although I am more than my body, my body is an essential part of who I am.”
This windy drivel ignores the wider context of this quotation from Pope John Paul. Indeed, it doesn’t even say where it comes from, which is in fact the Pope’s Letter to Families (1994) §16, in which we read that
Fatherhood and motherhood presume the coexistence and interaction of autonomous subjects. This is quite evident in the case of the mother when she conceives a new human being. The first months of the child’s presence in the mother’s womb bring about a particular bond which already possesses an educational significance of its own. The mother, even before giving birth, does not only give shape to the child’s body, but also, in an indirect way, to the child’s whole personality. Even though we are speaking about a process in which the mother primarily affects the child, we should not overlook the unique influence that the unborn child has on its mother. In this mutual influence which will be revealed to the outside world following the birth of the child, the father does not have a direct part to play. But he should be responsibly committed to providing attention and support throughout the pregnancy and, if possible, at the moment of birth.
That is a vital part of the context of that quotation from Pope John Paul about the human body, and it underlines, obviously enough, the sanctity of unborn human life; of this, however, we read nothing in the “message” for Day for Life 2012: for its authors have their own fish to fry. “Day for Life 2012,” Eccleston Square has decided “…recognises the marvellous achievements of the human body in events such as the Olympic and Paralympic games to be held in London this year, and the Commonwealth Games to be held in Scotland in 2014. It highlights the importance of good health, the care of our body and the importance of exercise and sporting activity.”
The intrinsically ludicrous nature of this kind of stuff is wonderfully captured in one of Fr Tim Finigan’s funniest posts ever:
I have an idea for next year’s Day for Life: “ALLOTMENTS.” That’s it: people who keep allotments and grow their own vegetables do all sorts of things for life, they keep the planet cool, probably eat their five a day and encourage others to do so and be healthy. There would be plenty of scriptural quotations to encourage people to grow their allotments for the glory of God.
“Better a small serving of vegetables with love than a fattened calf with hatred.” (Prov 15.17)
“Please test your servants for 10 days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink.” (Dan 1.12)
Another one might be “PUBLIC TRANSPORT.” Take the bus for the glory of God, save the planet, be healthy, have a new lifestyle.
“You crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance.” (Ps 65.11)
“By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night.” (Ex 13.21)
Or again, what about “FLOSSING”? Plenty of scripture there:
“thou dost break the teeth of the wicked” (Ps 3.8)
“In those days people will no longer say, ‘The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’(Jer 31.29)
and of course, the famous
“I have escaped only by the skin of my teeth” (Job 19.20)
There’s more, just as funny. But of course this isn’t funny. As Fr Tim goes on to say: “It is estimated that by the 50th anniversary of the Abortion Act, nine million children will have been killed before birth in our country.” We hear absolutely nothing at all about that in Eccleston Square’s “message” for Day for Life 2012.
This year, they have gone too far. “Enough is enough!” expostulates Deacon Nick on his Protect the Pope website. “It’s time that SPUC took over organising the Day for Life so that at last it has the focus intended by Blessed John Paul the Great. SPUC should at least organise [an] alternative Day for Life, sending out alternative materials to parishes in England and Wales. How about it, John?”
An excellent idea; if the pen-pushers at the Bishops’ Conference offices can’t do anything but undermine the late Holy Father’s real intention for the Day for Life, Let War be Declared. And it doesn’t need to stop there. Let’s get to the root of the problem. One thing the English Church really needs is a radical purge, even a total suppression, of the Eccleston Square bureaucrats. We have all had enough of them. This issue could be the start of the process. Then on to education. Then…