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The Bishops’ Conference has decided that Day for Life 2012 is all about the Olympic Games. Every year, it’s anything BUT what Pope John Paul intended

Evangelium Vitae was clear: it should principally be about ‘the seriousness of abortion and euthanasia’

By on Monday, 23 July 2012

Blessed John Paul II (CNS)

Blessed John Paul II (CNS)

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…

  • Markpetergray

    I think a further part of JPII’s instructions could also have been bolded ‘Without neglecting other aspects of life which from time to time deserve to be given careful consideration, as occasion and circumstances demand.’

  • Bob Hayes

    Reading the ‘Westminster Record’ (the Diocese of Westminster’s monthly newspaper) one is often left feeling that it is a cheerleader for various worthy causes, a promoter of ‘feel-good’ events and … Er, that is about all. The July edition calls on parishes to ‘Olympify’ events! Surely – in keeping with the New Evangelisation – we should seek to Catholicise the world around, rather than incorporate the secular? In view of the ‘Keep your Head Down and Be Nice’ message emanating from various quarters, it is no surprise to learn that the Day for Life is to get the same treatment. That said, thank you for publicising the matter Dr Oddie.

  • Catholic Youth Work

    I would share Fr. Finigan and Mr. Oddie’s concern that the Day for Life seems to be drifting away from it’s original purpose. Though this year’s theme isn’t without its merit and usefulness, I too would like to see more emphasis on Abortion especially. I wonder how we can constructively go about encouraging Catholics to be more active in this area? If we can figure out how to do that it would be a massive step forward…

  • Rev. Gerry Reilly

    You are at it again, Mr Oddie! Complain, complain, complain! Is there anything you like or approve of? Is diversity of opinion, or of the world, a curse to be destroyed, or a wonderful blessing from a gloriously abundant God? 

  • Charles Martel

     Yes, isn’t there something about that in St Matthew’s Gospel: ‘Go ye therefore, and olympify all nations’?

  • W Oddie

    If you read the piece you will see that I mentioned that passage; but it’s absolutely clear that abortion and euthanasia are intended to be the main emphases. To use this passage to EXCLUDE them is clearly utterly wrong. The original context says “from time to time”: not to the exclusion of all else.

  • paulpriest

     Well it might help to start saying – repeatedly – abortion is a grave evil.

    It might help if we stop Catholic charities prescribing abortifacients and abortion referrals [John & Lizzie]

    It might help that when a Church representative states we live in the capital of the culture of Death – he isn’t immediately whispered against by his own colleagues, reprimanded by [and publicly distanced from] our Archbishop!!!

    It might help if the CES immediately dissociated from Connexions and prohibited their involvement in Catholic schools [which included extramarital & same-sex advice to the underage, confidential contraception, abortifacient & abortion-referral provision etc]

    It might help if Our Ethical Spokesman on Bishops’ Conference – Archbishop Smith – retracted his stated public non-opposition to the diabolical Mental Capacity Act [& withdrew his advocacy/promotion of the Liverpool care Pathway while he's at it - and retract his gratitude to Keir Starmer for the euthanasia-licence of the clarified assisted suicide prosecution guidelines]

    It might help if Archbishop Nichols hadn’t given the inaugural memorial lecture celebrating the life of an abortionist before a body of abortionists – thanking them for conscience clauses which the RCOG don’t have & ‘reassuring them’ that the Church has no place interfering with their clinical decisions!!???

    It might help if the Church started employing authentic pro-Lifers rather than mass-contraception/population control advocates [CAFOD & Mary Colwell]  and those who haven’t been publicly associated with abortion [Pro-Choice-supporting ex-MP Greg Pope at the CES, Magi Cleaverhook chosen to co-ordinate the Papal Visit after she'd accrued so much experience co-ordinating African mobile abortuaries...]

    It might help if the use of the Word ‘Catholic’ was removed & prohibited from the contraception/abortion/euthanasia/eugenics/population control advocating/supporting/non-opposing Tablet…

    You want constructive?

    Well we ought to start with preventing our hierarchy from being so downright destructive!

  • Rev. Gerry Reilly

     Wouldn’t that be a monolithic Church, made in your own image, run by men for men?

  • Bob Hayes

    Yes, let’s have a properly accountable Church – shaped and governed by the principles of Western liberal-democratic values. We could keep our fingers-crossed and hope (I won’t say ‘pray’ as that word is not be fully inclusive of all traditions and, anyway, the word is surely tainted with hierarchical instruction – e.g. ‘Let us pray’.) that the Holy Spirit is able to exert influence. Now, what about focus groups and polling to identify the most popular beliefs…..?

  • W Oddie

    I asked you this last time; are you ra Catholic pries, or not? Yes or no? If you are, you ought to understand that this is an important issue which our bishops are failing adequately to address. If you are a protestant, that explains your anti-dogmatic sentimentality. What’s the answer/ 

  • teigitur

    Brilliant reply to “Rev” Reilly!

  • teigitur

    I would have thought the answer is most assuredly NO.

  • W Oddie

    Probably; see below, he’s on with the usual protestant stuff about a “monolithic” Church. But he hasn’t answered yet: why’s he so evasive?

  • Markpetergray

    The same can be said about that whole passage and abortion/euthanasia. The Day for Life should be about the celebration of human life, in all of its forms. And he sporting, internationalist, welcoming form, as promoted by the Olympics, is one of those forms. If abortion an euthanasia are sidelined for a year, that’s no bad thing in terms of the passage you quote. Yes, usually it will focus on abortion an euthanasia, but moving away from that, from time to time, is fine.

    I think sometimes as a faith we get overly obsessed with certain issues to the exclusion of other important issues, I think to take a break from decrying human evil, in order to celebrate human achievement, is no bad thing at all.

  • Kevin

    I like the Tridentine Mass. How about you?

  • Ttony

    There’s a Rev (or sometimes Fr) Gerry Reilly who is (or maybe was) the Retirement Officer for the Crewkerne deanery in the Anglican Diocese of Bath and Wells.

  • Rev. Gerry Reilly

     Yes, I do. It is beautiful, in its place,and it represents one very important strand in our understanding of the Holy Eucharist, one to be treasured.

  • Rev. Gerry Reilly

     Surely the message is more important than the identity of the messenger. Dismissing it because of the presumed identity messenger is very short-sighted, as we see in the visit of Jesus to Nazareth.

  • Rev. Gerry Reilly

     I thought the Church was primarily the Body of Christ, communicating God’s love and forgiveness to God’s world?

  • Kevin

    That is great. Does its place include your parish? How often do you treasure it?

  • PiusXXX

    Abortion will never be criminalised in the UK  and you won’t change individuals behavior by getting SPUC or Finnigan to harangue them.

  • Ttony

    It’s a Catholic thing: we like to see our priests identified as priests to understand their comments in the light of their condition as priests.  It sometimes means that they attract greater scorn than a layperson might if the platitudinousness of their comment brings shame on the clerical state as well as on them. 

    That’s a sort of meme lurking behind comments by Catholics on this post and on rather a lot of others on this site.

  • JabbaPapa

    The Church is primarily the gathering of men’s souls towards God.

  • JabbaPapa

    The Church is primarily the gathering of men’s souls towards God.

  • Kevin

    “Abortion will never be criminalised in the UK”

    Are you happy about that?

  • teigitur

    Oh he os involved with”thinking Anglicans”. All very well as long as he does not think he is a priest. Still, no law against thinking.

  • teigitur

    I don t  think any one is dismissing you, or your message.Just a little confused, at the almost Protestant postings of one, whom people had presumed to be a Catholic Priest.

  • Nicolas Bellord

     If abortion an euthanasia are sidelined for a year, that’s no bad thing in terms of the passage you quote.”

    But has not Mr Oddie pointed out that they have been sidelined for the previous four years?

  • Nicolas Bellord

    Dear JabbaPapa,

    I think you are behind the times.  Bishop Kieran Conry told us on Saturday that 50 years ago it was all about personal salvation but now it is about community.  I wanted to ask him whether I should join the Labour party but did not get the chance.

  • W Oddie

    You miss the point. The fact is that if you were a Catholic priest I would be deeply disturbed by the drivel you spout: but as it has become clear that you are a protestant minister of some kind, I really don’t care what you think; I’m just not interested, and certainly won’t be wasting any more time responding to your self-satisfied, arrogant and very clearly anti-Catholic provocations. Monolithic be damned.

  • W Oddie

    Never; he’s a protestant minister  and has never attended it. He’s just patronising you.

  • Gabriel Austin

    Your Bishops’ Conference seems to be infected with the same smoke of Satan as our USCCB. Any criticism of that organization is met with cries of lack of charity, personal attacks, and the like: denials of the criticism followed by mild admissions of oversight, as with the CCHD contributions going to semi-political organizations connected with abortion outfits, and such. Now there is the scandal of contributions [$5 million] going to an outfit called CARE whose head is paid $300,000, which has the same dubious practices, to which the USCCB bureaucrats reply with the same bureaucratic language [is this taught in colleges?]. Apparently the Church in Canada is afflicted with the same spiritual disease. The similarities in all these cases [one supposes it to be true in France and Germany and other countries] betoken, it seems to me, that the Church is indeed under attack from Satan – as Belloc pointed out – the great personal enemy of the Church when he came to realise at the moment of the temptation that Christ is indeed God..  

  • Rev. Gerry Reilly

     The Catholic Church in England has a lot to worry about if this is the level of debate on issues relating to God’s world. It is almost as though Vatican II had not taken place! Please think about the effect your and participant in the ecumenical scene.intemperate language has on casual users of the internet.
    Incidentally, I did not use a pseudonym, unlike many of your contributors, nor do I pretend to be anything other than an interested observer.

  • theroadmaster

    It seems that the Eccleston Square bureaucrats want to be topical with reference to the Olympic games and have produced this inoffensive, mundane and uninspiring message to launch the “Day Of life,2012″.   Any mention of the twin evils of abortion and euthanasia seems to be inconspicuous by it’s absence.  It sounds like the present episcopal conference of England and Wales are going out of their way to avoid any clear allusion to these constant threats to life, and are happy to indulge in insipid prose about the maintenance of good health and dietary information.  To paraphrase a witticism that characterized the disastrous leadership of generals in the First World War, we are experiencing the leadership of lions led by donkeys in terms of those who have been privileged with the high office of episcopal leadership, ducking or refusing to pronounce and promulgate the Church’s clear teachings, particularly against the twin evils of abortion and euthanasia.   Hopefully the Holy Spirit will descend upon the present generation of bishops and inspire them to take up the challenge of doing this, and there does seem to be a turn around in relation to more orthodox bishops being appointed, as in the recent case of Bishop Mark Davies to lead the Diocese of Shrewsbury.

  • hopefroreurope

    So you do not think abortion is an important enough issue to be addressed on the Day For Life. Let me remind you…abortion is the most prolific weapon of mass destruction in the world. Shelving the abortion issue is not an option but it is an insult to all unborn children who have died in this manner. You think I’m obsessed fighting to end abortion…..well you had better thank God I am.

  • JabbaPapa

    1) The use of pseudonymous internet “tags” is a straightforward matter of self-preservation — some types of people pottering around these internets are quite willing, otherwise, to have a go at interfering with and attempting to harm or potentially destroy the personal lives of those that they foment hatred for. I have witnessed this type of behaviour with my own eyes, not directed at me.

    2) Vatican II most certainly did take place, but the so-called “spirit” of V2 is a set of utterly uncatholic expectations and desires that the Council Fathers never suggested in the first place, and that have no place at all in Catholicism.

  • JabbaPapa

    The Bishops Conference of England & Wales is directly responsible for the slew of atrociously bad, marxism-inspired and protestantised translations of Church documents that have been appearing in the English language over the past five decades, including that ghastly Missal that was inflicted upon the English-language Church.

    Nobody should feel any surprise that the Day for Life is being “translated” by these people into a Day of Sports. Though of course, one should feel shock, betrayal, and dismay.

    The USCBB is actually not so far down the road to protestantisation as the England & Wales one — as for the other countries you mention, no comment, except that the French Bishops Conference is actually of fairly orthodox Catholicism generally (the main problem facing the Church in France is the rampant, state-organised secularisation of society itself, rather than protestantisation inside the Church).

  • cephas2

    Well said Mr Oddie! 

  • Lewispbuckingham

     Google came up with over twenty million responses.
     In one is the statement ‘I speak as one who has worked not only as a priest but as a probation officer, a social worker, and has been involved in community development’.Rev.Gerry Reilly.
     We may be gentle with him, as is commanded by the second of the two greatest commandments.
     This is one of the beauties of this site.

  • teigitur

    No, but you were asked a direct question. You have never replied.

  • awkwardcustomer

    Why are Catholics being encouraged to get down with the pagan Olympic games? Is it because the modern West is reverting/has reverted to Paganism and the Bishops want to walk alongside modern Man wherever he goes?

    I hate to say this, but could one of the problems with the abortion debate be the reluctance of the Pro-life movement, and others, to be more forceful in their arguments, by which I mean their reluctance to use visual imagery as a tool?  Google on ‘abortion pictures’, and distressing images of the results of abortion will appear.  I once asked a Pro-life lady why these images weren’t used in Pro-life material and she replied that the preference was for ‘dialogue’ rather than confrontation.  Going on the principle that a picture tells a thousand words, a poster comprising one of these images with the caption ‘Abortion Kills’ would, if fly-posted everywhere, stop the traffic.  Of course, there are legal issues which arise over the use of these images.  Apparently, they are considered to be an offence to public decency.  Which means the perpetrators would probably get arrested.  Which is probably why they don’t do it.  Which is probably why I don’t do it. But that’s how the animal rights people managed to get so much publicity for their cause, by using distressing images.

    (Go on.  I will if you will.) 

  • Philothea

    Most people, I believe, know abortion is wrong and are greatly concerned about the ever increasing rates of abortion. They are probably also dismayed by the daily death-toll of soldiers in Afghanistan (not nascent life, but adult lives cut off leaving wives and children bereft): I’ve never heard any Catholics express regret about that. When Catholics show that they want to protect life in all its aspects, they may be listened to on abortion and euthanasia. As it is their one-dimensional emphasis on these issues and their fanatical belligerence (see many of the comments here) repels ordinary people with whom they might make common cause. Catholics also seem unaware of the extent to which the abuse scandal has damaged their moral credibility. Until such time as they show themselves to be much more aware of their own deficiencies, more humble and able to listen to people in their real needs and dilemmas (more Christlike in fact) their so-called pro-life stand will continue to be ignored as empty hypocritical posturing.

  • Poppy Tupper

    I think a bit of exercise and a healthy diet would do you some good, Dr Oddie. Why do Catholics have such contempt for the episcopate?

  • Nicolas Bellord

    Philothea:  I must say my experience is different.  Most people may be against too much abortion but when it comes to hard cases or cases where they are actually involved then there attitude often changes – they take the utilitarian or consequential line of saying the end justifies the means.  The Catholic Church asserts the absolute right to life and condemns all killing of innocent people.  As for Afghanistan I am one Catholic who would withdraw our troops to-morrow.  I know of many others who would agree.  I also have the gravest doubts about the use of unmanned drones in countries with which one is not actually at war.

    If you feel that people on this blog are writing with “fanatical belligerence” why not gently correct them with reasoned argument?

    I can assure you that Catholics are only too sadly aware of the damage done by the abuse crisis.  I also think that on the whole Catholics are aware of their own deficiencies.  This is why we have confession preceded by examination of conscience in order to make ourselves aware of our sinfulness.  It takes quite a lot of courage to confess one’s more sordid actions to a stranger.

    Nobody is perfect but that should not prevent anyone in speaking out about what they believe to be wrong especially where innocent third parties, i.e. unborn babies, are concerned.  Accusing such people of hypocrisy comes across as somewhat too easy.

  • Nicolas Bellord

    awkwardcustomer:  May I refer you to the website of that excellent organisation “Christian Concern” at: 

    You will find the story of two people who are due to appear in court after displaying such material outside an abortion clinic in Brighton.

  • nytor

    “It is almost as though Vatican II had not taken place!”

    I wish it had not. As for ecumenism –

    Prayer for England
    O Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and our most gentle Queen and Mother look down in mercy upon England, thy dowry, and upon us who greatly hope and trust in thee.
    By thee it was that Jesus, our Saviour and our hope was given unto the world; and He has given thee to us that we might hope still more.
    Plead for us thy children, whom thou didst receive and accept at the foot of the cross, O Sorrowful Mother, Intercede for our separated brethren, that with us in the one true fold, they may be united to the Chief Shepherd, the Vicar of thy Son.
    Pray for us all, dear Mother, that by faith, fruitful in good works we may all deserve to see and praise God, together with thee in our heavenly home.

  • nytor

    Isn’t “Rev” the designation permanent deacons use? If he were a priest, he’d use “Fr”. He’s probably a liberal permanent deacon who wishes he could be a priest.

  • Poppy Tupper

    For your information, Mr Oddie, Fr Reilly was ordained in the church of Rome and became an Anglican shortly after Vatican II. He has therefore celebrated the Tridentine Mass far more times than you have ever attended it. Who is being patronising now?

  • teigitur

    No wonder he does not want us to know anything of him.

  • la catholic state

    Eventually abortion will be criminalised….as pro-aborts are doing ‘away with themselves’….while those who are anti-abortion generally fill the remaining demographic vacuum.

    Nature will reassert itself if nothing else.  But God willing, abortion will be outlawed before that, and children in the womb will have the protection of the law too.