Comments of the week

Letters should include a genuine postal or email address, phone number and the style or title of the writer. Email: [email protected]

Due to space constraints, please keep correspondence below 250 words, longer letters may be published online

The West’s sickness began in hospitals

SIR – As a student in Rome in the mid 1980s I greatly benefited from the huge knowledge and teaching skills of Fr Mark Attard. His courses on sexual and medical ethics were of the highest quality. In concluding his lectures he commented that the era of priesthood we were about to enter would witness staggering developments in medical ethics. Many, including the Church, would find it difficult to keep up with these changes and the moral challenges they would present. Change and the speed of change would characterise the world. The learned Maltese priest spoke with the authority of an Old Testament prophet.

While accepting the possibility that Fr Attard might be right, I never realised how this would be demonstrated in countries whose Christian identities had existed for centuries.

Belgium, a country with deep cultural religious roots, brutalised by the tyranny of Nazism and its power over the weakest and most vulnerable, became a byword for “progressive” liberal policies and attitudes. Yet euthanasia, including the euthanasia of children, has become accepted there as another medical procedure intended to free people.

Ireland, for so long the very symbol of Catholic being, rejoices in its newfound identity as a modern, liberal, progressive European state, freed from the restrictions of religion.

Change and the speed of change have transformed the mindsets of nations in ways I had never envisaged. While these countries are full of wonderful people, I find it rather sad that the Christianity which moulded their sense of nationhood has been put aside so readily. I am sure there are several books that could be written on the subject.

Fundamental to the studies will be the chapters on how secular societies develop their perception of what constitutes medical ethics.

Fr Bill Bergin
St Teresa’s,Newarthill, North Lanarkshire

Why we said no to Humanae Vitae

SIR – Francis Reilly (Letter, July 27) gives one side of the “furore” caused by Humanae Vitae. The experience of my wife and myself was very different.

We married in 1969. Our first child was conceived while on honeymoon and was born nine months and two weeks later. I was a student at the time; we were poor and lived in a mouse-ridden bedsit in a run-down part of Manchester.

By the time my studies were finished we could have had two or more children. We decided to practise artificial birth control, as a responsible alternative to having more children whom we could not possibly afford on my student grant and my wife’s occasional hairdressing services. We did so with a clear conscience.

My wife also had irregular periods so we rejected the so-called “natural” method as unreliable. The encyclical was not declared ex cathedra as the infallible teaching of the Church. Also, it is common knowledge that a majority of the Commission who advised Pope Paul VI recommended a change to allow artificial contraception.

Finally, the great majority of Catholics rarely have more than two or three children. The obvious conclusion is that the People of God have conclusively rejected Humanae Vitae. Does not the guidance of the Holy Spirit also inform the faithful?

Patrick Mitchell
Filey, North Yorkshire

A deadly shift

SIR – It’s really depressing to read of the Supreme Court’s ruling (Britain news analysis, August 10) that patients in a vegetative or minimally conscious state can be starved and dehydrated to death if their doctors and relatives agree that this is in their “best interests” – thus bypassing the Court of Protection.

Since these decisions are more likely to be influenced by those who see an inactive life as of no value, or who have financial motives for wishing someone dead, the inevitable conclusion is that hospitals could become increasingly dangerous places for the seriously ill. Should we therefore be considering how pro-life hospitals can be established?

Felicity Smart
London SW14

Hand or tongue?

SIR – At Mass last Sunday, somewhere in England, a young priest sermoned us on our duty to return to receiving Holy Communion on the tongue, his personal response to the impending Eucharistic Congress in Liverpool. He was critical of the “group of bishops” who had introduced reception in the hand. His pressure was so intense that at first I thought I should avoid annoying him by not receiving at all, slowly changing my mind as Mass progressed and then receiving in the hand as usual.

When will these regressing rigorists grasp that a man’s hands are always cleaner than his tongue?

Kevin Grant
Swindon, Wiltshire

Swayed by populism

SIR – The Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar is an impressive politician: young, intelligent and articulate. He is the leader of what was a socially conservative party until recently. Indeed, up to a few years ago Mr Varadkar himself articulated a pro-life position and was not an advocate for same-sex marriage. But perhaps a “road to Damascus” experience, or an appreciation of the zeitgeist of Ireland, has led to a transformation in his public position.

One can understand that, as the leader of a minority government, a savvy politician will want to appeal to what is most populist at any time. As reported recently, Mr Varadkar and his ministers plan to advise Pope Francis on theological matters, such as married priesthood and same-sex marriage, when the Pontiff visits Ireland for the World Meeting of Families.

Perhaps Pope Francis might have the opportunity to highlight to him the difference between integrity and populism.

Frank Browne

Walsingham united

SIR – It’s good to hear of the great plans for the renewal of life at Walsingham (Cover story,
August 10); but in writing of the renewal of devotions at Walsingham over the past two centuries no mention was made of the Anglican shrine. It has played an important role in helping Anglicans understand the Catholic faith, and in particular has been a stepping stone for many of us who are now in the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.

It was no accident that Pope Benedict chose that title for us, and we responded with enthusiasm to Anglicanorum Coetibus. The Anglican shrine still has its part to play, and the ordinariate’s annual pilgrimage, which has as its high point a Mass at the Catholic shrine, includes a visit to the Anglican shrine for sprinkling at the well.

We continue to pray for the restoration of unity between the Holy See and Canterbury, and Walsingham is crucial for that.

Mgr Edwin Barnes
Salisbury, Wiltshire