Letters & Emails Opinion & Features

Comment of the week

Lobsters, Cornish pasties and rigid rules

SIR – I understand what Ann Farmer is saying (Letter, October 19) but she overstates her case. The difficulty of rigid rules that try to cover every case has long been understood. Indeed, in an English secular context it was the medieval Catholic Church, through clerical judges (pre-Reformation judges were generally clerics because of the requirement for judicial literacy), which developed the concept of “equity” to cover those cases where to apply the strict letter of the law would result in injustice. Justice, after all, is the objective which rules and the law itself are supposed to aim for. The crucial difference is that equity is discretionary.

Mrs Farmer disapprovingly refers to the abolition of “the rigid rule” of Friday abstinence, but surely by the 1960s societal and dietary changes had deprived it of any genuine penitential meaning, with meat ceasing to be an assumed staple food. On holiday in Cornwall with my parents at that time, I recall a free and frank exchange of views between my parents because my father had prepared a Friday meal of lobsters which my mother’s cousin (a local fisherman) had given us, instead of some slightly tired Cornish meat pasties languishing in the fridge. My mother took the view that a Friday lobster supper might be within the letter of the law, but in the circumstances was hardly within its spirit. I was inclined to side with my mother on that one.

Tony Lawton
Skelton, North Yorkshire

God himself sanctions the death penalty

SIR – In criticising my position on the death penalty, Greg Warren (Letter, October 19) makes the helpful comparison between the Scriptures’ treatment of this subject and their treatment of slavery.

St Paul and St Peter tell slaves to obey their masters, and the Old Testament regulates the institution of slavery, notably by insisting that many slaves be freed after six years’ work (Exodus 21:2). Like divorce, slavery is an pre-existing practice which the Old Law is obliged to tolerate, while forbidding its worst excesses; New Testament treatments reflect the same attitude.

The death penalty, on the other hand, is explicitly ruled to be appropriate for certain crimes by God himself (Genesis 9:6), precisely in light of the sacredness of human life. This is reflected in the widespread use of this punishment in the Mosaic Law.

If Mr Warren and others refuse to accept the distinction between the innocent, who must be protected, and criminals and aggressors, who forfeit their rights to freedom and in some cases to life, then not only will they throw open our prisons and close our courts of law, but also abolish the armed forces which have protected this country from so many tyrants and mass murderers.

Joseph Shaw

Brexit morality

SIR – Melissa Kite’s sincerity in supporting Brexit is not in doubt (Diary, October 12); but a moral question arises when one jumps from that to the assertion that everyone should accept the result of the EU referendum.

During the referendum campaign, I received through the letterbox a pro-Brexit leaflet consisting largely of statements of fact. Every one of them was incorrect or misleading. How is it morally possible to regard the referendum result as legitimate if it was obtained through recourse to misleading statements? In no other walk of life would that be regarded as acceptable.

To paraphrase Ms Kite: can the Brexit camp not see that something more precious than Brexit is at stake?

KPE Lasok QC
London N7

Enforcing virtue

SIR – I propose that mandatory celibacy for priests is at best a contradiction in terms. We understand and are taught that celibacy is an act of loving.
Celibate love. Can one force someone else to love?

St Paul, in First Corinthians, talks of the three great virtues: faith, hope and love. The reason these virtues are different is that they cannot be forced, or mandated. They come from a God-given gift within. So one can neither force nor mandate faith or hope. Virtues such as justice or self-control can be forced. But not faith, hope and love.

It follows therefore that, theologically, biblically and spiritually, celibacy as an act of love cannot possibly be mandated.

It appears to be a nonsense to say it can. If on the other hand it can, please do not patronise us and tell us celibacy is an act of love. It cannot be. Celibate love, as a God-given act of loving, is of course a beautiful thing. But when ‘‘forced’’, that beautiful thing can turn sour.

Naming the three great virtues, as St Paul did 2,000 years ago, showed he totally understood. Can we understand now? Are we prepared to understand now?

Fr Paul Fox
Our Lady of Ransom, Rayleigh, Essex

Mortal sin ‘lite’

SIR – I have long admired Ann Widdecombe, both for her tireless defence of the unborn and for her clarity of thought and expression. However, the latter seems to have deserted her in her most recent article (Comment October 19).

In discussing the pastoral care of the divorced and remarried in relation to Holy Communion, she suggests that priests should be allowed to distinguish between those who “cast aside lightly” their first marriage, and those whose marriage had
become intolerable “even for saints”, and be able to give Communion to the latter group. This is like suggesting that there is not only “real” mortal sin, but also a mortal sin “lite”.

The fact is that anyone who is divorced and remarried, for whatever reason, is committing adultery and consequently in a state of mortal sin. The “wafflers”, with whom Ann sympathises, say that this is too harsh and lacking in mercy, but the opposite is the case. True mercy is shown when the priest refuses to allow a person to make a sacrilegious Communion.

Ann is also uncharacteristically off the mark when she asks “what is the difference in intent between natural and artificial means [of contraception]?” This is to ignore that fact that those who choose the former intend to avoid conception only through co-operation with how God created us, while the latter are saying “we know best and will take control of the situation”, thereby separating themselves from the Creator.

Alan Ashfield
Maidstone, Kent

SIR – Further to Ann Widdecombe’s excellent article on the denial of Communion to the divorced and remarried (unless they were fortunate enough to obtain an annulment) – why do they come to church week after week none the less? Is it not actual grace from God that draws them there, and if they are recipients of this can they really be in a state of ongoing mortal sin?

Or can I express my thoughts as a parable: the Master of the House invites several guests to a dinner. The servants, however, think some of those guests are unworthy of such an invitation and refuse to serve them. What will the Master say to those servants?

Elizabeth Price
Linton, Kent