Comments of the week

The BBC’s outrageous Gunpowder error

SIR – Many readers will have seen the second episode of the BBC series Gunpowder, in which is it suggested that my great, great … (10 greats) uncle, Fr John Gerard, played a role in the Gunpowder Plot, at the very least being aware of the conspirators’ intentions.

In his capacity as a Catholic priest, he undoubtedly knew some of the alleged conspirators, but there is not a shred of credible evidence that he was aware or involved in the manner suggested. Furthermore, while it is true that he made a daring escape from the Tower of London after gruesome torture, this had nothing to do with the Gunpowder Plot, and took place seven years earlier, when the authorities were trying (unsuccessfully) to persuade him to reveal the whereabouts of his friend and fellow Jesuit priest, Fr Henry Garnett.

The contemporary evidence surrounding the Gunpowder Plot is lengthy, complex and contradictory, and all the more confusing because the facts were probably distorted and spun by the authorities to influence public opinion. The facts are thus open to widely differing interpretations, but merging two quite separate events to link Fr Gerard’s escape from the tower with the Gunpowder Plot is a clear and deliberate act of falsification, which the BBC should now correct.

In an age of “fake news” the BBC greatly values its reputation as the world’s most trusted broadcaster. This will not last long if it continues to broadcast “fake history”.

Michael Maslinski
London SW1

Meeting the children of the Revolution

SIR – Following Jonathan Luxmoore’s excellent article (Feature, November 3), maybe I could share a tale of two cities.

I recently revisited Stavropol in the North Caucasus. At the Orthodox Theological Seminary the seminarians, in addition to their usual studies, learn Arabic and study the Koran; the threat of fundamentalist Islam in the mountainous republics of the North Caucasus is as real as ever. Yet, there are presently 219 seminarians studying at the academy and Fr Paul Somojlenko, the pro-rector, told me: “There is an inner calling to take up the Cross and change the world.”

In Lviv, western Ukraine, I attended a celebration of the ecumenical work of the Ukrainian Catholic University. The place was buzzing when I visited during Freshers’ Week; there are up to 2,000 students doing a range of courses. And at the nearby Lviv Theological Academy there are more than 200 seminarians. I also attended a procession and a two-hour Mass in a packed Roman Catholic Cathedral with two thirds of the priests from Lviv archdiocese present.

How different this was to my first visit to Ukraine in 1991 when I stood with priests and faithful in tears at mass graves; I visited the Latin Rite Cathedral then and an old man was sweeping the aisle – the old parish priest who had slept in the sacristy to keep the church open.

In many cases persecution has led to a growth in Christianity. Maybe we can learn from this recent history as we now support oppressed and persecuted Christians of the Middle East.

Neville Kyrke-Smith
National director, Aid to the Church in Need, Sutton, Surrey

Ordinariate ignored

SIR – I wonder if a representative of the bishops’ conference could enlighten readers as to why Mgr Keith Newton was not invited to be part of the numerous “Reformation celebrations” taking place on the ecumenical landscape last week?

One must further enquire as to why he has not been invited to join the ARCIC conversations, despite his obvious importance as a former bishop of the Church of England now leading a body, the ordinariate, whose entire purpose is to enable Anglicans to become Catholic while retaining a distinctly English spirituality/patrimony? Is it that our bishops fail to grasp the significance and purpose of Benedict XVI’s vision? Or is it that many now prefer the comfortable appearance of unity over its actualised form?

That would be lamentable for all Catholics as it would suggest our bishops have bought into a Protestant vision of unity, which holds people “together” despite contradictory beliefs, rather than an authentic Catholic vision that works for unity in distinction via shared proclamation of the one revealed faith.

It is six years since many of us sacrificed a great deal to witness to unity and join the ordinariate. Since then we have been routinely undermined by those in authority over us. Not a single church has been gifted to the ordinariate despite several closing each month. Why are so many of our clergy used to plug diocesan gaps instead of being enabled to flourish within the vision to which we were called?

I think this question deserves an answer. If not to us then to the Pope Emeritus, who asked the bishops to be generous when he last visited these shores for the beatification of Blessed John Henry Newman.

Fr Ed Tomlinson
By email

Ireland’s decency

SIR – David Alton’s article (Cover story, October 27) made for sombre reading, especially in light of the pending abortion debate in the Republic of Ireland, which is considering removing the constitutional protection for the unborn child. It should be essential reading not just for all Catholics but for anyone who has yet to decide on this emotional issue. While Ireland has become a more secular country with a dominant liberal media, there is a decency that remains based on our Christian values. I have no doubt that if anyone reflects on Lord Alton’s article, their hearts and minds may be moved to see the truth that unborn children are human persons with human rights that need to be protected.

Frank Browne
Dublin, Republic of Ireland

Thought police

SIR – At this rate it will soon be impossible for a Catholic or traditional Christian to occupy any sort of public office. Yet again we read of those upholding Catholic or traditional Christian teaching being victims of a sort of Orwellian thought police.

In one case a student expelled from university for expressing, in the context of an online discussion, the biblical view of homosexuality. In another, the head of an Irish university student union voted out for refusing to publish information on overseas abortion. (News, November 3).

In neither case were these two forcing their views on anyone. To claim, as was done by the High Court in the case of the expelled university student, that his view “might affect his ability to qualify as a social worker” because as such he would have “power over the lives of vulnerable service users, and trust is a precious professional commodity” is surely the slipperiest of slippery slopes.

So now we have marriage registrars, social workers and perhaps student union officials on the list of those seemingly unable to both hold office and be Catholics. We would do well to remember Martin Niemöller
and his “first they came for the Socialists …”

Who is next? Medical professionals who refuse to perform or assist abortions? Are they to be barred from the NHS? Do they not deal with vulnerable service users and is trust not a valuable professional commodity for them too?

Robert Steele
Aylesbury, Bucks

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