Who are we?

Just before Christmas last year, a number of conservative cardinals went public about their frustration at getting no response from the Pope to a request in April for clarification on 5 points arising from “Amoris Laetitia”. These points have caused them, they say, “confusion and disorientation”. There does not seem to me to be much to debate, but I wonder whether they have read John 8:7-

he that is without sin among you let him first cast a stone at her

The five points or doubts (dubia) are these:

  1. can the adulterous (those currently in an unrecognised marriage, more uxorio) receive holy communion?
  2. are there absolute moral norms that must be followed without exception?
  3. is adultery an “objective situation of grave habitual sin”?
  4. can “circumstances or intentions” make an “intrisically evil act” something that is “subjectively good”? (this seems, they say, to contradict the John Paul II encyclical “Veritatis Splendor”
  5. can one act on conscience against “absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts”?

The first of the 5 dubia is a pastoral question and specifically refers to a request for confession prior to receiving communion. In fact, Pope John Paul II already allowed for the remarried to return to the Church in “Familiaris Consortio” if they decided no longer to live together more uxorio (not a big issue after a few years, maybe), and they tried to avoid scandal. In fact this is no more than a clarification of Canon 915 that communion should only be witheld from those who “obstinately persist in manifest grave sin.” But it is not at all clear from what Pope John Paul writes whether abstinence or the avoidance of scandal is the more important issue.

What Pope Francis has done consistently, however, is to promote a Catholic version of Orthodox “economia” with his statement “who am I to judge?” That, in turn, has a fairly strong biblical backing in John 8:7. It is also rooted deeply in Catholic pastoral work and can be found throughout the Church. It is this principle, for example, that allows a Priest I know in Poland, for instance, to live as a parent (and a very good parent) during the week, while still saying Sunday Mass – esssentially, it is a matter of his discretion and Parish acceptance. Not only does he take communion- he officiates, but he avoids scandal. Whether he lives with the mother of his child more uxorio is a matter for them. Similarly, it was not the fact that he lived with his housekeeper that caused the downfall of the late prelate of St Etheldreda’s – that relationship was never spoken about and did not cause scandal – what went on or did not behind closed doors was a matter for the individuals concerned, and God.

People, and certainly people in the Church, make too many assumptions about what happens in the bedroom. John Paul II has already provided an answer. It needs clarification and Pope Francis has made a small move towards that clarification.

The 4 subsequent “dubia”, however, are loaded and so far, the Pope has failed to respond.

For what it counts, I think the second point is also an instance of “economia”- that there is a difference between the way we understand and implement the law and the way God might. If we take the Christian emphasis on love seriously, we cannot be so judgemental. I would also question whether the acts in question could ever be described as “intrinsically” evil. Adultery might be unwise, improper, unfair, selfish- but rarely “intrinsically evil”! Meanwhile, the Church has tried to weather the storm, insisting on the one hand that essential doctrine has not changed and on the other hand allowing civilly-divorced and remarried couples to communion in Argentina (at the specific request of Bishop Angel José Macin), Malta, Germany and Belgium. Bishops in Canada and Poland (however muvch they may turn a blind eye to what their own Priests are doing) continue to take a more stringent view leading the 4 Cardinals to conclude, “And so it is happening — how painful it is to see this! — that what is sin in Poland is good in Germany, that what is prohibited in the archdiocese of Philadelphia is permitted in Malta. And so on. One is reminded of the bitter observation of B. Pascal: ‘Justice on this side of the Pyrenees, injustice on the other; justice on the left bank of the river, injustice on the right bank.'”

What the 4 Cardinals want is not in fact clarification, but rather, in Cardinal Raymond Burke’s words, for the Pope to make “A formal act of correction of a serious error”.

4 cardinals by tim

I am sure this is not the only issue the Cardinals have with the current Pontiff. A few months ago, he condemned attempts by Catholics to convert the Orthodox as a “grave sin”. That did not stop a scurrilous Catholic press from digging around to unearth the details of canon 751 which states, “schism is the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.”

Now, I should have thought that bullying the reigning Pontiff to retract details in his own encyclical comes fairly close to a statement that the Pope is in error- more than a whiff of schism in its own right, then from this mitred quartet!

Now, in fact, the Pope answered the Dubia in an interview with “Avvenire”. He spoke fairly generally but he went on record with the following statement,

“The Church exists only as an instrument for the communication of God’s merciful plan to the people. During the Council, the Church felt it had the responsibility to be a living sign of the Father’s love in the world. In the ‘Lumen Gentium’, it went back to the origins of its nature, the Gospel. This shifts the axis of Christianity away from a certain kind of legalism which can be ideological, towards the Person of God, who became mercy through the incarnation of the Son. Some still fail to grasp the point. They see things as black or white, even though it is in the course of life that we are called to discern.”

Of course, if the 4 Cardinals so wished, I suppose they could persuade Benedict to emerge from his library and tell the world he was still Pope and had been coerced into resigning. That would make “Amoris Laetitia” null and void and poses a much more interesting question about what we should do with the AntiPope Francis… but somehow, (a) I do not think this is a realistic scenario and (b) I rather like the Franciscan emphasis on mercy above all else.

Let the doubters believe! Who are we to cast the first stone?

 

President

Ilir Meta, elected President in April. While elected by a majority, the Presidential election was marred by a continued effort on the part of the Opposition to disrupt the parliamentary process. That said, Meta was as much connected to the Democratic party as he was to the Socialists, and arguably, now he is out of the running for parliamentary jobs, he is no longer a serious opponent for Edi Rama.

Ilir meta by TIM.jpg

 

Here is a view of the Ottoman bridge in Tirana:

ottoman bridge by TIM

 

What Syriza wanted

What Syriza wanted back in 2015 was debt relief and that is what it has got, with reservations, this week in a guarded 8.5 Billion deal from the EU with the IMF making debt relief, “a debt haircut” part of the overall deal and Germany claiming that nothing hd really changed at all. Tsipras has wanted debt-relief for some time: “ the debt has to be rescheduled so the economy can breathe and markets can restore their confidence”. The deal comes, though, on the back of a raft of tax, labour and pension reforms long demanded by Germany, and unlikely on their own to make the country more competitive while the doom of financial constraint continues to bind Greece and more importantly while the powerful in the EU block continue to treat Greece, a soverign state as the southern European poodle or as Papadimitriou termed “a sacrificial lamb”, obliged to obey whenever the more-powerful Northern block commands.

What is interesting, however, is that the deal, as it now stands, goes some way to vindicating the position adopted by Yianis Varoufakis during the initial negotiations. The EU hated Varoufakis and I gather insisted on his dismissal as a price for their agreeing anything at all with Syriza, but it is a story that we in the UK would do well to heed: The EU hates to be backed into a corner and whether the recipe is right or wrong, the EU is likely to delay rather than surrender to threats and bombast. “No deal is better than a bad deal” is the sort of threat the EU will take seriously.

As far as the Greeks are concerned, the EU has never played fair. Only a few days’ ago, the German finance Minister, Wolfgang Scheauble, was castigated in the press for repeatedly moving the goalposts: Dimitris Papadimitriou simply called him “dishonest”. Scheauble claimed rather bizarrely that the EU policies had “had a positive impact on Greece in the end, because it is now on a better path and, if it continues, we can all be satisfied.” I think he has never spoken to Greek pensioners who have seen their take-home pension dwindle over the last 8 years and a further cut is now promised well after the current government is over.

As far as Tsipras is concerned, however, it has all been a game of political posturing – he may have won some of the headlines, and he may have spun some of the deals to square with his socialist agenda, but he is pretty well no more than back where he started. For all his commitment to social reform Tsipras has presided over massive unemployment, over-taxed his people and driven up the cost of living.

wolfgang scheauble by TIM.jpg

 

 

Everything in our power

Mrs May says all the right things: She acknowledges the terror, the fact that people lost everything in the Grenfell fire, that £5 million will be made available to help with immediate needs, that it will get to the people who really need it, and regarding other 1970’s tower blocks – “We will do everything in our power to make sure these buildings are safe”. That said, the overwhelming message from the media is of the authorities failing to take notice, of both Sadiq Khan and the Prime minister being heckled in public. In the middle of this, Mr Corbyn is seen hugging people, giving the human touch that is so badly needed.

The BBC talks about misreading the “national mood”. Certainly, a mood has developed as surely as it did in the days after Diana’s death but we must be careful that this is not something exploited by the press.

It is relatively easy to say the right thing. In a media age, it is important to be seen doing the right thing. It is no good being told by others that the PM is “distraught” about the fire. The election is over and this is not a time to be playing for votes- what we need in times of crisis is the political machine to move seamlessly to support the individuals hurt and to be shown to do so. People need to feel reassured, not simply told that they are reassured. Mr Portillo did a brief interview criticising the PM because “she didn’t use her humanity. She met the emergency service, a good thing to do no doubt…” As Michael Portillo knows, there is more fluidity between people of differing parties in Westminster that we can possibly guess. He has famously got a good relationship with Diane Abbott, going back years before they share a tv sofa. What he and others should be calling for, at this time, is a more co-ordinated approach across the political divisions. There is a need for displays of humanity as well as the raw stuff of making money and services available to victims and getting answers. All of this is needed but mostly, we need a display of unity. We need an uplifting massage of calm, not a continued and subversive election campaign and certainly not an underhand leadership campaign.

As in Machester, it falls to the Queen once again, who does the job of leading the Nation impeccably.

Grenfell aftermathTIM

 

 

Arlene Foster

Many things worry me about the prospect of an alliance with the DUP, -or with ulster unionists at all but then, if the Ulster Unionist party was good enough for Enoch Powell, and for many years took the Conservative whip in the Commons- well…

Of course by the 1980s, Powell was fighting the newly formed DUP as well as other parties in Northern Ireland. Ian Paisey was particularly scathing, I think, about his “anglo-Catholicism”. And indeed what remains of the UPP would see itself as quite distinct from the DUP. The UPP has recently refused to get involved with power-sharing in Stormont anyway and in this last election lost its last two seats. It could be argued then that the public voted for people who might come together and negotiate, rather than grandstand and abstain.

Enoch Powell is greatly eclipsed by his own rivers of blood speech, and his departure from the Conservatives in 1974, when he endorsed the labour party over his own. But I recall him as a genial and highly articulate man.

I think his speech was provocative rather than as the Times called it, “evil” and while he sued the Sunday Times for calling him “racialist”, I think, on reflection, he had certainly lapsed into the language of racism. But his speech is a benchmark against which today we can judge what is and what is not acceptable. I think also (a) his speech spurred our country towards greater integration and (b) he was not himself racist or prejudiced. As for his views on Europe, well, the country seems to have caught up with him. His campaign against the EEC in the fisrt Referendum would endear him to many today.

But I would hold him to be one of the great orators of teh 20th Century and a great thinker. It does not mean I agree with what he said, but it does mean that I am less inclined today to dismiss the DUP deal than I might have been …

But their views worry me,

And I wonder quite how a British Government can remain impartial as the peace deal in Northern Ireland plays out if it is so tied to one of the main parties.

Arlene Foster by TIM

Lulzim Basha

An election takes place on Sunday 25th: The Democratic Party in opposition to Edi Rama is now led by Basha, the person who succeeded Rama as mayor of Tirana. Since my last visit there has been a good deal of change around Skanderbeg square- some of the central grass area expanded and an argument over how much or whether there should be traffic allowed. Anyway, the election rages and Rama is guided by Tony Blair’s team headed by Alastair Campbell. Cherie Blair is also involved in a court case with the US company Rapiscan about border controls.

Lulzim Basha by TIM

 

Here is my picture of an Ottoman bridge in Tirana:

ottoman bridge by TIM.jpeg

 

 

EDI RAMA

When I was last in Tirana, I tried to make a record of the buildings coloured in what appears to be Dazzle Camouflage by their Mayor, Edi Rama, elected at 36 in 2000. Since 2013, he has been the Socialist Prime Minister and now I believe is taking advice from Alistair Campbell as he seeks re-election and entry to Europe.

EDI Rama by TIM.jpg

The picture below showing the Mayor’s offices was finished a few weeks’ later as I was recovering from a botched Appendectomy in Oxford. I stepped off the plane from Tirana complaining of food-poisoning by BA. Instead, my appendix burst and I had to deal with peritonitis. I went back a couple of times after this I think and there should soon be enough sketches to complete our EDWARD LEAR film about a journey from Istanbul to Albania in 1848. The film will copmpare the views Lear drew with the smae views drawn over the last 15 years. The views of the various sketches will be interrupted by musical numbers based on Lear’s poems and set by David Watson in a style that should recapture the spirit of the 19th Century music hall. Throughout the film, an animated Edward Lear will deliver some sort of commentary… I hope this will end up as the very first fully-animated documentary.

One of the first things Edi Rama did as mayor was to restore the Ethem Bey Mosque which can be glimpsed here. Lear drew at least two views of the Mosque, then surrounded by trees.

Tirana-Skanderbeg square and etham Bey by TIM

woodrow wilson and edi rama by TIM.jpg