Letters & Emails

Comments of the week

America stands in the way of peace in Syria

SIR – It seems there is some hope for an end to the suffering of the Syrian people with the US and Russia working together on ceasefires. But the question of where the US stands on President Assad’s rule is still unclear and could be a major stumbling block. It is an issue which should have been decided by the United Nations and in accordance with international law.

In August 2011, about five months after the trouble had started in Syria, US president Barack Obama issued an imperial decree asserting that Assad had lost legitimacy and had to go. That was a key turning point in the Syria catastrophe. At that time there were human rights issues in Syria (as well as street violence), and the powerful nations of the West could have addressed them (as they could do in Turkey, Bahrain, Egypt and elsewhere) without
supporting the violent overthrow of the government.

America and Russia should work together to eradicate ISIS and other fanatical armies from Syria and establish a democratically elected government. If America continues backing armed opposition and insisting Assad must go, that is not going to happen.

Brendan O’Brien
London N21

The forgotten cure for Catholic conflict

SIR – As an 89-year-old priest I was led to wonder, on reading the articles by Damian Thompson and Michael Davis (Cover story and sidebar, July 14), what Blessed John Henry Newman would make of the crisis in the Church today.

So many articles and lectures today focus on the fracturing of the Church membership and point to a need for more debate, better organisation, speedy reforms and the like. But the root of this sad situation, as shown by the increase in the number of empty benches in our churches, is a crisis of faith. Have we, I wonder, come to regard faith as something to be achieved, rather than to be received?

Newman said: “Faith is a divine gift. It is gained by prayer. Prayer that is patient and persevering.” “Prayer” is a word missing from articles and lectures dealing with the present crisis. Is prayer now considered to be a cop-out, especially patient prayer?

To many of the articles and lectures I have read, Corporal Jones of Dad’s Army would respond with “Don’t panic! Don’t panic!” Where is God in all this agitation? Newman, in a letter, said: “I have tried to leave my cause in the Hands of God and to be patient – and he has not forgotten me.” Neither does God ever forget his Church.

Just as with faith, so too with that other vital defence against the present wave of cynicism in the Church, Christ’s peace. That personal peace of heart is the bedrock of unity as seen in Newman’s words in a sermon: “while Christians do not seek after inward unity and peace in their own breasts, the Church itself will never be at unity and peace in the world around them”.

Newman would agree with the calls being made for the acceptance of development in the Church. He would rejoice at the greater involvement of the laity in the life of the Church. After all, he pleaded for the Church to actively promote a better educated laity.

That meant more knowledge of Scripture and theology and related subjects. But Newman always gave top priority to prayer, for prayer is the noblest of all the arts. Prayer it was that inspired the martyrs to lay down their lives for Christ and his Church.

Witness the peace in the heart of the highly educated English martyr St Thomas More when he prayed in his cell in the Tower of London: “Thank you, dear Jesus, for all you have given me, for all you have taken away from me, for all you have left me.”

Such faith is possible to the uneducated and the educated. It is a gift from God.

Fr Michael Murphy
Cork, Republic of Ireland

SIR – I was very pleasantly surprised by your cover story of July 14. As an unashamed liberal Catholic, I disagreed with a good deal of it.

However, Damian Thompson is entirely correct that we risk plunging (at least First World) Catholicism into the abyss of societal irrelevance as we all fall off a demographic cliff we should have seen coming.

I can sign up to his five-point plan to prevent us falling further. His fifth point, that we now have an educated populace for whom the old catechesis just doesn’t cut it, is very well made.

All of us urgently need to address this, not just by hoping and praying someone else will do it for us.

Martin Pakes
Ipswich, Suffolk

SIR – Was Damian Thompson’s cover story influenced by the example of books by Eamon Duffy? Though separated by four centuries, Thompson’s observations about Fr Albert Tomei and Fr Michael Nugent seem to echo Sir Christopher Trychay’s in The Voices of Morebath.

Perhaps 20th-century historians could compile research relating to the experiences of those who celebrated and witnessed the Mass before and after Vatican II. Such stories should be preserved.

As Damian Thompson states, “there is almost no one left who grew up with [the 1962 Missal].”

Benjamin Hazard
By email

Africa’s ailments

SIR – Melinda Gates made a flawed statement at the recent family planning summit in London when she said that access to contraception would cut the migrant crisis. The main push factor that causes people to migrate is based on hopes of economic improvement (other than when they are forced to flee because of civil war or persecution).

I appreciate her financial support to various projects in Africa. However, she needs to understand that the problems associated with mass exodus of people from their home countries are far from being related to access to contraception.

Handsen Chikowore
London SW4

One rule for all

SIR – I believe that Fr Raymond de Souza is missing the point in relation to Cardinal Pell (Comment, July 7). The cardinal is presumed to be innocent of all charges, but the general practice in cases where members of the clergy are charged with serious offences has been that they withdraw from ministry for the duration of the legal process.

This situation has occurred in Ireland, where priests were removed from ministry without prior notice and allowed to return only following acquittal or the dropping of charges.

I cannot comment on the operation of the judicial system in Australia, except to note that Australia is a liberal democracy with an independent judiciary.

The fundamental point is that there should not be one procedure for ordinary priests in parishes and another for bishops and cardinals.

Michael Walsh