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How to drown out the papal message

2010 August 31
by Paul Vallely

Edmund Adamus really should get out more. If he did he might have a better understanding of the impact his ill-chosen words are likely to have on the rest of the population.

To most people “the geopolitical epicentre of the culture of death” sounds like the factory where nuclear weapons were manufactured at the height of the Cold War. And a “wasteland” sounds like what would be left if they all exploded.

But Mr Adamus, who is Director of the Pastoral Affairs Department in the Catholic diocese of Westminster, is talking about something very different. Even so, it is worth saying at the outset, the vision he outlines is significantly at odds with the views of his boss, Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster who is leader of Britain’s Catholics. He recently described British society as a lot less secular than people like Mr Adamus suppose.

There are two problems here. The first is that Mr Adamus is one of a handful of extreme conservatives in a position of small authority within the Catholic Church in England. The second is that he is talking in highly dense and specialised Vatican jargon which has evolved from teachings on sex which are rooted in the medieval language of scholastic philosophy.

So, a bit of translation might help. The Catholic Church sees an unbroken thread on the sanctity of human life which weaves its way through teachings on sex, contraception, homosexuality, abortion, IVF, cell research, poverty, international development, capital punishment, war and euthanasia.

The thread is “respect for human life”, which extends from the moment of conception until its natural end. Pope John Paul II labelled it all under the umbrella term the “culture of life”. Anything which departs from that in any significant way is, he said in his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae, part of a contrary “culture of death”. In that it is the strong who decide the fate of the weak. At the bottom of its slippery slope lies the eugenics of Nazi Germany.

John Paul II developed a particular version of this called “the theology of the body” – of which Edmund Adamus is a particular adherent. He runs an annual lecture on it. It covers virginity and celibacy, marriage and adultery and the idea of the resurrection of the body. It suggests that the design of the human body tells us not simply how things are but how they ought to be. It is far from universally accepted within the Church, which is why Catholics don’t refuse blood transfusions and heart transplants.

But Mr Adamus has not just repeated obscure jargon in an interview aimed at the general public. He has allowed his extreme views to add things which are palpably silly. Whatever Catholic traditionalists may think about the past five decades of British legislation being progressively anti-life, anti-marriage or anti-family, it makes no sense to say that Britain is more anti-Catholic than countries like Pakistan, Egypt, China, Iraq and Saudi Arabia where Catholics suffer physical persecution.

All this is spectacularly unhelpful on the eve of the papal visit. The Catholic Church has important insights to offer the rest of society about the dangers putting materialist individualism before the common good. It has key things to say about social justice at a time of spending cuts. It has good questions to ask about the relationship between laddish culture, the normalisation of pornography and attitudes to women and sexual violence.

But all that will not be heard above the indignation generated by Edmund Adamus’s incitement to cultural war. He is no doubt about to get a major ticking off, if he hasn’t had it already.  


from The Independent

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