Having mentioned Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth’s excellent pastoral letter for Lent in a blog last Monday, in which he gave wise advice to bloggers like me, I must now applaud him again. As reported in the Catholic Herald for last Friday, which was based on an item on LifeSiteNews.com, Bishop Egan was brave enough to state that “When people are not in communion with the Catholic Church on such a central thing as the value of life of the unborn child and also in terms of the teachings of the Church on marriage and family life…then they shouldn’t be receiving Holy Communion.” He went on to say that although Catholics should not seek a fight “we will, being Christian, have to suffer, and have to go to the Cross. This is one of the ways, particularly as a priest or bishop, in which that cross is going to come out, because you have to witness to the truth.”
Bishop Egan knows, as other brave bishops in the US know, that when you speak out about the scandal it gives to ordinary Catholics to see prominent Catholic politicians such as Nancy Pelosi or Joe Biden receive Communion at the same time as publicly supporting anti-life measures, you yourself will be attacked, both inside and outside the Church. Such attacks can be harsh and they do constitute a “cross.” Bishop Egan has again borne witness to the Cross as reported in a further LifeSiteNews article this week. Interviewed by a staff member he stood by his earlier remarks: “My basic point was a simple one: that those who do not believe in and/or do not practice the main doctrines of our Catholic faith should not go forward to receive Holy Communion in a Catholic Church. They are not in communion with the Catholic Church.”
Bishop Egan’s words have already been criticised by Conor Burns, Conservative MP for Bournemouth West and a Catholic. He has made it clear that although he voted in favour of the same-sex marriage Bill he would never support any bill promoting abortion. Significantly, he quoted Pope Francis in his response to Bishop Egan, saying that “I think it is a great pity, indeed a tragedy, that this bishop appears not to have noticed that we have a new gentle shepherd preaching a Christ-like message of inclusivity, love, tolerance and forgiveness.”
Not for the first time, it seems, has Pope Francis’s style of speaking and preaching been mistaken for a relaxation of the substance of the Faith. As Bishop Egan understands, it is never “Christ-like” to fudge the truth in favour of the kind of tolerance and forgiveness that never warns or reprimands. Indeed, to preference love over truth is not true charity at all. Bishop Egan concluded his interview by speaking of the “privatisation of religion” in society and how this clashes with the Christian belief “that every individual is of infinite value and that the natural way of life in Christ leads to true happiness.”
The strong pro-life leadership shown by Bishop Egan is needed today as never before. Two recent news stories brought this home to me. The first, also reported in last week’s Herald is the news that ten NHS Trusts have admitted burning foetal remains alongside surgical waste, with some of these remains used to heat hospitals in a waste-to-energy scheme: a graphic illustration if ever there was one of supreme contempt for the infinite value of each human life. The second was another from LifeSiteNews, describing how, earlier this month, a woman professor of pornography and black studies physically attacked a 16-year-old pro-life advocate and destroyed the banner she was holding because she found the images of abortion victims that were displayed on it offensive.
As Bishop Egan says, Catholics shouldn’t seek out fights or any kind of violence, whether e.g. in blogging or in pro-life pavement witness. But we have to stand up for what we believe, sometimes in public; otherwise the gospel of niceness (and indifference) takes over. To witness to the truth in public is to invite a backlash from those who are offended or angered by it. But sometimes there is no alternative.
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