Thank you for your words of welcome on behalf of this distinguished gathering. As I address you, I am conscious of the privilege afforded me to speak to the British people and their representatives in Westminster Hall, a building of unique significance in the civil and political history of the people of these islands. Allow me also to express my esteem for the Parliament which has existed on this site for centuries and which has had such a profound influence on the development of participative government among the nations, especially in the Commonwealth and the English-speaking world at large. Your common law tradition serves as the basis of legal systems in many parts of the world, and your particular vision of the respective rights and duties of the state and the individual, and of the separation of powers, remains an inspiration to many across the globe.
As I speak to you in this historic setting, I think of the countless men and women down the centuries who have played their part in the momentous events that have taken place within these walls and have shaped the lives of many generations of Britons, and others besides. In particular, I recall the figure of Saint Thomas More, the great English scholar and statesman, who is admired by believers and non-believers alike for the integrity with which he followed his conscience, even at the cost of displeasing the sovereign whose ”good servant” he was, because he chose to serve God first. The dilemma which faced More in those difficult times, the perennial question of the relationship between what is owed to Caesar and what is owed to God, allows me the opportunity to reflect with you briefly on the proper place of religious belief within the political process.
This country’s Parliamentary tradition owes much to the national instinct for moderation, to the desire to achieve a genuine balance between the legitimate claims of government and the rights of those subject to it. While decisive steps have been taken at several points in your history to place limits on the exercise of power, the nation’s political institutions have been able to evolve with a remarkable degree of stability. In the process, Britain has emerged as a pluralist democracy which places great value on freedom of speech, freedom of political affiliation and respect for the rule of law, with a strong sense of the individual’s rights and duties, and of the equality of all citizens before the law. While couched in different language, Catholic social teaching has much in common with this approach, in its overriding concern to safeguard the unique dignity of every human person, created in the image and likeness of God, and in its emphasis on the duty of civil authority to foster the common good.
And yet the fundamental questions at stake in Thomas More’s trial continue to present themselves in ever-changing terms as new social conditions emerge. Each generation, as it seeks to advance the common good, must ask anew: what are the requirements that governments may reasonably impose upon citizens, and how far do they extend? By appeal to what authority can moral dilemmas be resolved? These questions take us directly to the ethical foundations of civil discourse. If the moral principles underpinning the democratic process are themselves determined by nothing more solid than social consensus, then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident – herein lies the real challenge for democracy.
The inadequacy of pragmatic, short-term solutions to complex social and ethical problems has been illustrated all too clearly by the recent global financial crisis. There is widespread agreement that the lack of a solid ethical foundation for economic activity has contributed to the grave difficulties now being experienced by millions of people throughout the world. Just as “every economic decision has a moral consequence” (Caritas in Veritate, 37), so too in the political field, the ethical dimension of policy has far-reaching consequences that no government can afford to ignore. A positive illustration of this is found in one of the British Parliament’s particularly notable achievements – the abolition of the slave trade. The campaign that led to this landmark legislation was built upon firm ethical principles, rooted in the natural law, and it has made a contribution to civilization of which this nation may be justly proud.
The central question at issue, then, is this: where is the ethical foundation for political choices to be found? The Catholic tradition maintains that the objective norms governing right action are accessible to reason, prescinding from the content of revelation. According to this understanding, the role of religion in political debate is not so much to supply these norms, as if they could not be known by non-believers – still less to propose concrete political solutions, which would lie altogether outside the competence of religion – but rather to help purify and shed light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles. This “corrective” role of religion vis-à-vis reason is not always welcomed, though, partly because distorted forms of religion, such as sectarianism and fundamentalism, can be seen to create serious social problems themselves. And in their turn, these distortions of religion arise when insufficient attention is given to the purifying and structuring role of reason within religion. It is a two-way process. Without the corrective supplied by religion, though, reason too can fall prey to distortions, as when it is manipulated by ideology, or applied in a partial way that fails to take full account of the dignity of the human person. Such misuse of reason, after all, was what gave rise to the slave trade in the first place and to many other social evils, not least the totalitarian ideologies of the twentieth century. This is why I would suggest that the world of reason and the world of faith – the world of secular rationality and the world of religious belief – need one another and should not be afraid to enter into a profound and ongoing dialogue, for the good of our civilization.
Religion, in other words, is not a problem for legislators to solve, but a vital contributor to the national conversation. In this light, I cannot but voice my concern at the increasing marginalization of religion, particularly of Christianity, that is taking place in some quarters, even in nations which place a great emphasis on tolerance. There are those who would advocate that the voice of religion be silenced, or at least relegated to the purely private sphere. There are those who argue that the public celebration of festivals such as Christmas should be discouraged, in the questionable belief that it might somehow offend those of other religions or none. And there are those who argue – paradoxically with the intention of eliminating discrimination – that Christians in public roles should be required at times to act against their conscience. These are worrying signs of a failure to appreciate not only the rights of believers to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, but also the legitimate role of religion in the public square. I would invite all of you, therefore, within your respective spheres of influence, to seek ways of promoting and encouraging dialogue between faith and reason at every level of national life.
Your readiness to do so is already implied in the unprecedented invitation extended to me today. And it finds expression in the fields of concern in which your Government has been engaged with the Holy See. In the area of peace, there have been exchanges regarding the elaboration of an international arms trade treaty; regarding human rights, the Holy See and the United Kingdom have welcomed the spread of democracy, especially in the last sixty-five years; in the field of development, there has been collaboration on debt relief, fair trade and financing for development, particularly through the International Finance Facility, the International Immunization Bond, and the Advanced Market Commitment. The Holy See also looks forward to exploring with the United Kingdom new ways to promote environmental responsibility, to the benefit of all.
I also note that the present Government has committed the United Kingdom to devoting 0.7% of national income to development aid by 2013. In recent years it has been encouraging to witness the positive signs of a worldwide growth in solidarity towards the poor. But to turn this solidarity into effective action calls for fresh thinking that will improve life conditions in many important areas, such as food production, clean water, job creation, education, support to families, especially migrants, and basic healthcare.
Where human lives are concerned, time is always short: yet the world has witnessed the vast resources that governments can draw upon to rescue financial institutions deemed “too big to fail”. Surely the integral human development of the world’s peoples is no less important: here is an enterprise, worthy of the world’s attention, that is truly “too big to fail”.
This overview of recent cooperation between the United Kingdom and the Holy See illustrates well how much progress has been made, in the years that have passed since the establishment of bilateral diplomatic relations, in promoting throughout the world the many core values that we share. I hope and pray that this relationship will continue to bear fruit, and that it will be mirrored in a growing acceptance of the need for dialogue and respect at every level of society between the world of reason and the world of faith. I am convinced that, within this country too, there are many areas in which the Church and the public authorities can work together for the good of citizens, in harmony with Britain’s long-standing tradition. For such cooperation to be possible, religious bodies – including institutions linked to the Catholic Church – need to be free to act in accordance with their own principles and specific convictions based upon the faith and the official teaching of the Church. In this way, such basic rights as religious freedom, freedom of conscience and freedom of association are guaranteed. The angels looking down on us from the magnificent ceiling of this ancient Hall remind us of the long tradition from which British Parliamentary democracy has evolved. They remind us that God is constantly watching over us to guide and protect us. And they summon us to acknowledge the vital contribution that religious belief has made and can continue to make to the life of the nation.
Mr Speaker, I thank you once again for this opportunity briefly to address this distinguished audience. Let me assure you and the Lord Speaker of my continued good wishes and prayers for you and for the fruitful work of both Houses of this ancient Parliament. Thank you and God bless you all!
Thank you for your gracious invitation to make an official visit to the United Kingdom and for your warm words of greeting on behalf of the British people. In thanking Your Majesty, allow me to extend my own greetings to all the people of the United Kingdom and to hold out a hand of friendship to each one.
It is a great pleasure for me to start my journey by saluting the members of the Royal Family, thanking in particular His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh for his kind welcome to me at Edinburgh Airport. I express my gratitude to Your Majesty’s present and previous Governments and to all those who worked with them to make this occasion possible, including Lord Patten and former Secretary of State Murphy. I would also like to acknowledge with deep appreciation the work of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Holy See, which has contributed greatly to strengthening the friendly relations existing between the Holy See and the United Kingdom.
As I begin my visit to the United Kingdom in Scotland’s historic capital city, I greet in a special way First Minister Salmond and the representatives of the Scottish Parliament. Just like the Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies, may the Scottish Parliament grow to be an expression of the fine traditions and distinct culture of the Scots and strive to serve their best interests in a spirit of solidarity and concern for the common good.
The name of Holyroodhouse, Your Majesty’s official residence in Scotland, recalls the “Holy Cross” and points to the deep Christian roots that are still present in every layer of British life. The monarchs of England and Scotland have been Christians from very early times and include outstanding saints like Edward the Confessor and Margaret of Scotland.
As you know, many of them consciously exercised their sovereign duty in the light of the Gospel, and in this way shaped the nation for good at the deepest level. As a result, the Christian message has been an integral part of the language, thought and culture of the peoples of these islands for more than a thousand years. Your forefathers’ respect for truth and justice, for mercy and charity come to you from a faith that remains a mighty force for good in your kingdom, to the great benefit of Christians and non-Christians alike.
We find many examples of this force for good throughout Britain’s long history. Even in comparatively recent times, due to figures like William Wilberforce and David Livingstone, Britain intervened directly to stop the international slave trade. Inspired by faith, women like Florence Nightingale served the poor and the sick and set new standards in healthcare that were subsequently copied everywhere. John Henry Newman, whose beatification I will celebrate shortly, was one of many British Christians of his age whose goodness, eloquence and action were a credit to their countrymen and women. These, and many people like them, were inspired by a deep faith born and nurtured in these islands. Even in our own lifetime, we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live.
I also recall the regime’s attitude to Christian pastors and religious who spoke the truth in love, opposed the Nazis and paid for that opposition with their lives. As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the twentieth century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus to a “reductive vision of the person and his destiny” (Caritas in Veritate, 29).
Sixty-five years ago, Britain played an essential role in forging the post-war international consensus which favoured the establishment of the United Nations and ushered in a hitherto unknown period of peace and prosperity in Europe. In more recent years, the international community has followed closely events in Northern Ireland which have led to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement and the devolution of powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly. Your Majesty’s Government and the Government of Ireland, together with the political, religious and civil leaders of Northern Ireland, have helped give birth to a peaceful resolution of the conflict there. I encourage everyone involved to continue to walk courageously together on the path marked out for them towards a just and lasting peace.
Looking abroad, the United Kingdom remains a key figure politically and economically on the international stage.
Your Government and people are the shapers of ideas that still have an impact far beyond the British Isles. This places upon them a particular duty to act wisely for the common good. Similarly, because their opinions reach such a wide audience, the British media have a graver responsibility than most and a greater opportunity to promote the peace of nations, the integral development of peoples and the spread of authentic human rights. May all Britons continue to live by the values of honesty, respect and fair-mindedness that have won them the esteem and admiration of many.
Today, the United Kingdom strives to be a modern and multicultural society. In this challenging enterprise, may it always maintain its respect for those traditional values and cultural expressions that more aggressive forms of secularism no longer value or even tolerate. Let it not obscure the Christian foundation that underpins its freedoms; and may that patrimony, which has always served the nation well, constantly inform the example your Government and people set before the two billion members of the Commonwealth and the great family of English-speaking nations throughout the world.
May God bless Your Majesty and all the people of your realm. Thank you.
I love Mary, the mother of Jesus. Catholics call her ‘Our Lady’. And she is a real lady. She is also powerful. Why? Because she was conceived without sin! No sin = powerful. By God’s grace, of course. She has the power to crush the head of the serpent. (Gen 3:15). On her feastdays I always remember the words of Wordsworth about Our Lady –
“Our tainted nature’s solitary boast.”
Here’s the full poem:
Mother! whose virgin bosom was uncrost
With the least shade of thought to sin allied;
Woman! above all women glorified,
Our tainted nature’s solitary boast;
Purer than foam on central ocean tost;
Brighter than eastern skies on daybreak strewn
With fancied roses, then the unblemished moon
Before her wane begins on heaven’s blue coast;
Thy image falls to earth. Yet some, I ween
Not unforgiven the suppliant knee might bend
As to a visible Power, in which did bend
All that was mixed and reconciled in Thee
Of mother’s love with maiden purity
Of high with low, celestial with terrene!
Sr ANNE LYONS PBVM, writes a letter in today’s Irish Times. She suggests that women don’t boycott Mass on the 26th September, as suggested by the monk’s mother from Cork. Sr. Anne is also from Cork. She intends to send a postcard to the Cardinal!
A cluster of issues needs to be addressed collaboratively: the church’s style of governance, its use of power, decision-making, the role of women, and the use of inclusive language.
i.e. woman priests.
She goes on to say:
Although women are moving into positions of leadership and collaboration in our secular institutions, the Catholic Church lags behind. It preaches equality, but practises exclusion. Pope John Paul II apologised to women and spoke passionately about their inclusion, but women have no place at the table where decisions are made that shape the church and their own lives. It has been said that if the sin of men is pride, the sin of women is passivity! I can no longer be passive or silent regarding systemic injustice to women in the church.
I have been an active member of the RCC for quite a while now and have never suffered an injustice as a woman. I have always felt included and when decisions are made in the parish, all parishioners are invited to take part at parish councils etc and parish meetings. If some women choose not to take part, that their choice. But to say we suffer an injustice is absolutely untrue. What does she want? To live in the presbytery?
Finally, she says that she longs to be more fully respected, valued and included. She says:
Years of patient study have made us ready to play our part in nourishing the impoverished soul of the church but offers of service are met with rebuff or deafening silence.
What exactly has she offered to do? Say Mass? There are great religious sisters all over the country doing tremendous work and are greatly appreciated for the work they do: just to name a few areas they work in – Addiction Centres, Formation, Catechetics, Healthcare, Chaplaincy, Justice, Prison Ministry, Counselling/Psychotherapy, Refugees/Advocacy, Education, Spirituality and Family Ministry. That’s pretty included.
Finally, she says
As long as the official church ignores women, it will continue to fly on one wing and to flap round in endless circles, and its soul will wither. – Yours, etc,
With all due respect to Sr. Anne, it is some of the nuns who are flying around on the wings of new age angels and flapping round in endless ‘circles’ of new age dancing on airy fairy notions of a false spirituality of ‘Sacred Circle Dance’ and the ‘Dances of Universal Peace’ as advertised on one religious sisters website. Oh, and Cosmology. Sorry what? that’s right – Cosmology!
I know a woman who did a degree in theology. Following her primary degree, she decided to do a Masters. On obtaining her Masters she announced she was going on mission to Africa, and hoped to be working in a university. When I asked about her work, she replied, “oh, I don’t mind if I just get to make the tea, I just would love to be in the university environment.”
As it happened the mission was put off for a while and in the meantime she ended up in another country where she went to a Catholic conference. She introduced herself to the organisers and told them about her qualifications and if in any way she could help, she would be delighted. The organisers thanked her and asked her if she wouldn’t mind helping out with the teas as they had no one to serve the tea. She left the conference and reported that it was the worst conference she ever went to, not what she had expected at all.
Ambition is a terrible thing. To serve or to lecture, that is the question!
August 2010: Humbert Summer School has its annual gathering of hacks to discuss politics and culture and the Church. It was set up by John Cooney, a columnist with the Irish Independent newspaper. Cooney has been writing articles in his column about the Catholic Church hierarchy and his dream to erase the current group of bishops and replace them with his ‘chosen few’ and above all to oust Cardinal Seán Brady. His inside contacts in Rome inform him who should take the seat of Armagh and he writes about it. Groupies?
He belongs to a group of like minded individuals who oppose Church teaching on many issues especially women priests and the way bishops are appointed. They want democracy! This year he has invited from America ‘bishop’ Bridget Mary Meehan and the keynote speaker was Robert Blair Kaiser who has told Irish Catholics to ” Tell bishops to ‘get the hell out of our cathedrals.”
To understand all of this nonsense you need to understand Irish History and General Humbert. The rebellion of 1798 failed. In a strange sort of way one wonders if the hand of God was in it. Had the French revolutionaries won – where would we be now? We would be a Republic of the French revolution type. We would be ‘enlightened ones’. Instead Ireland had to wait more than a hundred and thirty years before freedom of a sort came. First in 1922 and finally in 1937 with the Irish Constitution. It was very pro-Catholic. Why? Because Catholics had suffered persecution by the British for almost 300 years, persecution that tried to wipe out the Catholic Faith in Ireland, persecution of the sort that had never been seen anywhere, not even in China or Japan. The Constitution was drawn up, not to establish a secular Enlightenment ideology that some of the ‘rebels’ of 1798 had wanted, but a true Republic based on freedom of religion and the protection of Catholic/Christian/religious believers to live in peace and harmony without interference from any tyrannical, imperialistic, foreign rule.
So, it appears that Cooney is fighting the secular ‘enlightened’ side of the battle and every year he celebrates Humbert’s arrival in Killala Bay, Co. Mayo and enlists ‘enlightened’ generals from overseas to fight his battles. Will someone please tell him that they lost and that the battle is over.