The Statement of Ed Balls and Post-Vatican II Evangelisation

Editorial FAITH Magazine May-June 2010


Further Material:
Definition of Formal Cooperation with Evil
The Cultural Background
Questionable Compromises
Sexualisation Review: Extracts
Timeline of Relevant Public Statements

Matthew 5:15 "Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house."

In The Spectator's debate on 2 March, in which the motion was "England should be a Catholic country again", Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor struck a paternal note in his summing up of the evening. He argued that a Britain that was Catholic again would be able to offer the "genius" of our national character to the wider Church, thereby "enriching" it. It was an appropriate conclusion to a genial evening in which the Catholic side, while largely failing to engage directly with opposing arguments, presented its vision much more coherently than in the Intelligence Squared debate of last November.

The policy adopted since Vatican II by the bishops of England and Wales of fostering an "English Catholicism" was especially developed under Cardinal Hume's leadership, and it has much going for it. But rumbling in the background since late February has been a crisis in the Church which suggests that our searching for an accommodation with contemporary British culture may have seriously over-reached itself.

It concerns the ambiguity of the Church's response to the Government's proposed strategy for sex and relationships education (SRE) and teenage pregnancy. This strategy is profoundly hostile to the Catholic vision of love; nonetheless the ambiguity of the response made by the Church's official representatives has fostered the impression that the Church supports the Government's proposals, and fostered confusion over the content of relevant Church teaching.

It is symptomatic of a way of engaging with the political process that is deeper rooted than the particular propensities of our current ecclesial leadership. This point applies to the leadership of the Catholic Education Service (CES), to which we must make reference below. The crisis is caused by an ecclesial culture that has built up in recent decades and has roots going a lot further back.

Proclamation and Politics

The Church is in the world but not of the world. This entails a certain balance between the politics of careful negotiation and a clear proclamation of principle. February's bout of anti-family legislation prompted examples of both types of engagement with the world, each apparently achieving something. Both the painstaking and polite lobbying of the CES on the Children, Schools and Families Bill and Pope Benedict's "interfering" ad limina proclamation that the Equality Bill was "against the natural law" seem to have induced the Government, to some degree, to change clauses in its legislation in a way that is more acceptable to Catholic moral teaching. So, even on the purely human level, the argument that negotiation alone is more likely to produce results than the proclamationof principles is clearly not always true.

Arguments of expediency aside, the underlying issue is that the Magisterial power to pronounce authoritatively on matters of faith and - in this case more especially - morals is intrinsic to the purpose of the Church. Thus, for the good of the world, this must always have a certain precedence over the polite give and take of dialogue. Magisterium does not preclude the place of the latter but provides the foundational dynamic and vision out of which we should dialogue.

The fact that there has been a swing away from this emphasis, even to the point of positing a dichotomy between politics and proclamation, is apparent in the way the CES has attempted to defend its role in the SRE crisis. In an address to Catholic school leaders on 28 January this year, which appeared in the news section of the CES website in mid-March, Oona Stannard said the agency believes "in the importance of being seen and heard through dialogue rather than remote pronouncements that may have less impact". In a letter to concerned parents, published on Catholic blogs, Bishop McMahon, head of the CES, put the policy succinctly: "The CES considers that it gets the best results for the Catholic community by negotiation." He added that "confrontation with the Government over this Billwould not achieve anything".

The playing out of this particular engagement of Church and world is the clearest evidence yet that the balance has gone far too far in favour of political dialogue. It has become manifest that we need a more coherent synthesis of worldly knowledge and revealed wisdom. This should renew our appreciation of the Magisterium of the Church as a living, personal, divine authority capable of definitively true statements. This voice is necessary for the fruitfulness of our giving "unto Caesar what is Caesar's". Without it, we will find it much harder, even impossible, to discern when reasonable compromise in the political arena risks transmuting into a profoundly unwise compromise of our proclamation of Christ and, to take the case in point, of the virtue of purity. Unless we hear Christ'schallenge "But I say to you" in both our private lives and the public forum, our convictions may falter and we may find ourselves driven by fear of what we stand to lose rather than inspired by faith in Christ.

A Moment of Truth?

Historians will surely view post-Christian Europe as an extraordinary cultural mix of social development and demographic death, a culture which can both espouse living life to the full and at the same time deny its value and destroy it. This is the reason for the anguish of Catholic immigrants, lured over here by our great advances, who find, after just one generation, that their children are speaking a different language and living a very different life.

At 8:18am on Tuesday 23 February 2010, a week before Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor debated the virtues of a Catholic England, something happened that may well come to be seen by such historians as an epiphany moment, revealing with telling clarity the contemporary British Church's propensity to get unwillingly sucked into an agenda profoundly at variance with our own.

Ed Balls, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, was being vigorously interviewed on Radio 4's Today programme. In this prime time slot, with a large majority of the programme's six million listeners tuned

in, Mr Balls said that Catholic schools "must explain how to access an abortion; the same is true on contraception as well" [our emphasis]. He added: "To have the support of the Catholic Church and Archbishop Nichol [sic] in these changes is, I think, very, very important, is a huge step forward."

We should note at this point that for a school to provide information enabling sexually active pupils "to access" abortion and contraception is, according to Catholic teaching, "formal cooperation" with the grave evils of, respectively, murder and sex outside marriage. This traditional Christian teaching is in some ways the source of the principle enshrined in Western legal systems that those who "aid, abet, counsel, or procure" that which is wrong are as liable to prosecution "as a principal offender".

"In the midst of this confusion out representatives continue to prefer to affirm that 'Church teaching' will be followed without clarifying what it actually is."

Paragraph 2272 of the Catechism states: "Formal co-operation in an abortion constitutes a grave offence. [... The Church] makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society."

Thus Mr Balls has outlined a policy that is profoundly opposed to a Catholic understanding of human nature. Not only that, but he has clearly suggested that Catholic magisterial leaders support "these changes".

No Public Denial

Mr Balls' statement on the Today programme has not, at the time of writing, been unequivocally repudiated in public by its key subject, our leaders. It seems that this might class as one of the biggest moral and political sacrifices we have ever made. For it looks as if our Church allowed the DCSF gracefully and quietly to make what seems like an implicit partial retraction 13 days later in the House of Lords. The Department's parliamentary under-secretary, Baroness Morgan, pronounced that the bill "does not, for instance, require Catholic schools to teach young people where to access an abortion". The CES, though, has not publicly highlighted this pronouncement, but simply alluded to it in private letters made public on the internet by interested Catholics. For instance, BishopMahon mentioned that "there has been much wrong information put about by campaigning groups and indeed the Government itself. The CES has had some of this corrected". And, in answer to a question at a clergy gathering in north-east England the Bishop said that Ed Balls got it wrong.

The CES has publicly said, in a letter to The Catholic Herald on 5 March, that Catholic schools will "not promote abortion", but it has left it to the rest of us to discover that, late one night in the Lords, the Baroness gave legal support to this statement and directly contradicted and corrected her boss.

But to Mr Balls' "misspeak" on abortion we must add an earlier one by Ms Stannard, which implied something very similar, and may even have led him astray. On 25 January Ms Stannard very publicly lent the support of the Catholic Church to the Government's "positive" and "supportive]" draft SRE "Guidance to Schools", which clearly does require secondary schools in general to cooperate in providing information on abortion and sex before marriage.

The guidance states that "SRE should" include:

"learning how to avoid unplanned pregnancy [...] and the choices available [... and] the range of local and national sexual health advice, contraception and support services available". [1]

Also on 23 February, the Government passed a pro-faith school amendment, partly in response to the CES lobbying mentioned above. It affirms that nothing in the law should be "read as preventing" SRE being "taught in a way that reflects the school's religious character". The CES and the education service of Westminster diocese (WES) have, in effect, argued that this amendment ensures that the above measures will not apply to faith schools in as much as they, in general, go against "Church teaching" (their preferred term). In terms of specifics the CES has mentioned only that Catholic schools would not "promote abortion". On that point, the DCSF now agrees, it seems.


On contraception (including the "emergency" variety) the CES have been vague and even ambivalent, whilst the DCSF have been worryingly consistent.[2]

The Government did not retract Mr Balls' claim on 23 February that we will be forced to enable sexually active pupils to access contraception, and, by implication, that we support this. There has been no rebuttal of this specific point. From the CES and WES affirmations that schools will be able legally to "act in accordance with Church teaching", we can conclude that aiding and abetting teenage sex before marriage is not seen as a good idea - but more on that below.

But to support this interpretation there is another subtle statement which we need, it would seem, to put in the "misspeak" column. The CES letter to The Catholic Herald adds that Catholic schools "will not seek to withhold facts in SRE". But "withhold" seems to be a reasonable term to describe what we will be doing if we don't give "facts" which must, according to all DCSF statements on this specific issue since the amendment, be given by faith schools. These statements include those made on 23 February, partly retracted by Baroness Morgan with regard to abortion, but also immediately after her retraction when she says that Catholic schools "will be required to teach that contraception exists, is available, and to say that the Church's point of view isnot the only one" (our emphasis). It is interesting that a CES private letter to a concerned enquirer quotes the former retraction but omits that latter affirmation.

We should not be surprised at this repeated affirmation by the DCSF. This is because making sure that sexually active pupils have access to such information is a key part both of their "Guidance to Schools" and of their "Teenage Pregnancy Strategy: Beyond 2010", announced on the same day with the words "the promotion of condoms remains central to the overall effort".

Catholic teaching, which the CES affirms that all Catholic schools do and will follow, says we must "withhold" some of these facts - namely those whose provision is aimed at compliance with the legal requirement to enable "access" to "emergency" and other contraception.

In the end it will be up to Ofsted inspectors and the courts to decide whether the DCSF framers of the law are right, in other words whether the facts "not withheld" must include how to access "emergency" and other forms of contraception. In the intervening months and years teachers, parents, priests and others are, presumably, meant to wait politely and not rock the boat. Maybe Paddy Power might use the time to offer us odds on the existence of Catholic schools in the period after September 2011 - and maybe on projected teenage STDs, abortions and suicides, but more on that below.

Which brings us back to Oona Stannard's clear and public statement on 25 February that the Government's "draft guidance is a positive step forward [... It] helps support schools in counteracting [false impressions of relationships] from within their own carefully planned SRE programmes." We argued above that, given the CES position on the amendment, it would seem to be a "misspeak". But there

is a deeper reason for thinking this. The law and its guidance indisputably require teachers at non-faith schools formally to cooperate with abortion and under-age and pre-marital sex. Official Catholic support for this is an untenable position. For those (especially parents and priests) involved with the Christian formation of these schools' pupils, Catholic and non-Catholic, the appearance of such support is especially tragic and tear-jerking. It is the unkindest cut of all. How did we get this far?

Delicate Politics

In an article in Zenit.orgon 11 March Edward Pentin, the Vatican correspondent for Newsweek magazine, contrasted the "growing opposition to the Bill" with the "absence of opposition from the bishops, which some charitably think may be tactical". Which brings us to what Ms Stannard termed back on 28 January "the importance [...] of dialogue rather than remote pronouncements".

We should note indeed that Ed Balls has a powerful lobby pressuring him to force Catholic schools to teach, for instance, that homosexuality is "natural and normal".

Were the Church publicly to contradict Ed Balls' implication that she is happy formally to cooperate with abortion, we might embarrass, even betray, the Government with a general election close by. Doing this might scupper the whole collaborative process, which has certainly toned down the Government's legislation. For instance, perhaps we should consider ourselves lucky that the parental right of withdrawal from SRE will end at 15 and not 12. And no doubt getting this far has involved many man-hours of skilful and sincere negotiation.

To understand how we have come to prioritise political negotiation over our Master's magisterial, ecclesial and apparently "remote" voice to such an extent, we need to acknowledge the radically new situation in which the Christian Church has found itself in post-Enlightenment society. Ours is a historically unique culture formed largely by Christianity, now fostering aspects of it and simultaneously unravelling others under the inspiration of new ideologies. The text of the latest DCSF bill is a great illustration. It is replete with terms emerging from the Christian emphasis upon the fundamental and unique dignity of each human person. Yet it is a good example of what Pope Benedict has called, speaking to EU representatives, "seeing great and beautiful values compete or come intoconflict." This is a difficult terrain to navigate (see "The cultural background" opposite).

A Deep-Rooted Silence

There is a moment in the development of the Church's realpolitik in England and Wales, back in 1968, which seems to have been a relevant watershed. At this point, concerning controverted moral issues, political manoeuvring became a major, if not the major concern of the Church, and magisterial proclamation has tended to be seen as nothing more than a slightly frustrating bottom line of what can be got away with. We described this in our July 2007 editorial "Sex Education in Catholic Schools: The Deeper Issues":

"The problem goes back to the policy of the hierarchy in response to the publication of Humanae Vitae. The history of this period has been documented in chapter 8 of Clifford Longley's "The Worlock Archive". [...] The hierarchy adopted what Longley refers to as the "English solution" (something he regards as good). He describes the effect of a carefully worded statement from the hierarchy to the clergy. The statement supported the teaching of the encyclical but proposed a measure of leniency towards priests who dissented from it. As Longley observes, the statement had consequences reaching far beyond the pastoral care of dissident theologians:

"'It was a tacit acknowledgement, at least for the time being, that there was nothing to be gained by an aggressive policy of promoting the teaching of Humanae Vitae in the parishes. This was where the statement was most eloquently silent. A bishop issued his carefully worded pastoral letter, and in many cases also a private letter to his priests, and then left the subject alone. After a while this silence became a difficult silence to break.'

"Nearly forty years on, it is still difficult to break the silence.  The Church in this land has found itself tongue-tied and unable to offer any effective counter to the secular challenge. Cultural battle after battle, especially in the area of sexual and life ethics, has been lost almost before it has started. And the silence since 23 February is just a more extreme version of other occasions when the post-Conciliar English and Welsh Church has seemed intent on sailing close to the whirlwind of formal cooperation with the grave evils of abortion and promiscuity (see "Questionable compromises", p.7).

Effects Upon Our Social Fabric

And so in 2010 we find ourselves with a government statement, supported by a press release quoting the CES director that clearly implies, mistakenly it would seem, that the current position of the leadership of the Church in England and Wales is at odds with Catholic teaching. And the response of that same leadership has so far avoided clear-cut refutation. Rather it has been carefully to spin the interpretation of the law, while the Government pulls back slightly from its anti-life negotiating positions. Clear teaching has little place in this strategy.

The public propagation of falsehood is always a discordant note in the symphony of the universe with reverberations of varying strengths across creation. And a falsehood which fosters formal cooperation with seriously wrong acts does, as the Catechism says, "irreparable harm [... to] the whole of society".

But the appearance of falsehood in the mouth of Christ, or the teaching of his Church, interferes with the vital pulse of salvation history. It introduces a fracture that undermines salvation and undermines hope.

The implications of Ed Balls' high-profile statement concerning aspects of what our Church leaders are teaching are scandalous. The risk that these implications will lodge long-term in the public consciousness increases in proportion to the length of time this statement goes unanswered by those leaders.

The propagation of confusion concerning what that teaching is, we think, the deepest existential problem in this whole crisis. In the midst of this confusion our representatives continue to prefer to affirm that "Church teaching" will be followed without clarifying what it actually is.

Sexualisation of the Young

The area with which this legislation is concerned happens to be sex. It happens to be an extension of a policy that has attended, and done little to arrest, the most relentless sexualisation of young people in the history of humanity.

By some apparent twist of Government planning and/or divine providence the 48 hours after what we have termed the "epiphany" of Ed Balls Today interview contained several profoundly relevant signs of the times. On 25 February the Home Office published the results of an independent review entitled "Sexualisation of the Young." This confirmed what anyone in tune with British young people, Catholic or not, knows: that their sexualisation is profoundly advanced, rapidly progressing and seriously harmful. The well-researched review is a truly sobering read (see "Sexualisation Review: Extracts" below). The review shows, among other things, that most British teenagers, Christian or not, are increasingly exposed to a barrage of pornography driven by technology and ideology.

Twenty-four hours after Ed Balls' Today statement he was on breakfast television admitting that he was "worried" by the failure of the Government's strategy to reach its target of a 50 per cent drop in teenage pregnancies over the last 12 years. [4]

This admission came just a day after the DCSF confirmed that its fresh, new strategy is, wait for it, more of the same. The Daily Mail quoted Professor Brenda Almond of Hull University as commenting that "the Government continues to cling to its discredited strategy of dishing out sex advice, pills and condoms". The Telegraph quoted Norman Wells of the Family Education Trust, who pointed out that the whole strategy "is making it more difficult for girls to resist the advances of their boyfriends".

The stream of shocking anecdotes concerning sex education in non-Catholic as well as Catholic schools is wearisome confirmation of this process of sexualisation of youth by their respected, adult mentors.

The failure of the whole sexual revolution is surely confirmed by the car wreck that is the modern family, as prophesied by Humanae Vitae. In The Spectator debate Piers Paul Read made this point:

"There is much cant about protecting the rights of children but, as Pope John Paul II said, the right of a child to be brought up under one roof by its natural parents should be seen as one of the most fundamental of all human rights. And there is no doubt that it would be if children had the vote. But children do not have the vote. They have no lobby. No Stonewall. No feminist MPs."

Pope Benedict's words to the English and Welsh Bishops on 1 February this year seem particularly timely:

"I urge you as pastors to ensure that the Church's moral teaching be always presented in its entirety and convincingly defended. [...] Continue to insist upon your right to participate in national debate through respectful dialogue with other elements in society. In doing so [...] you are actually giving voice to the convictions of many people who lack the means to express them."

The Root of the Problem

Handing on the truth given by Christ is a central role of the Church and plays a vital role in combating the over-sexualisation of our young people. We need to strike the appropriate balance between proclaiming this truth and engaging with the political process. This entails an understanding of exactly why the Magisterium is so central to the Church, why it is right to talk of "formal cooperation" with evil as always doing "irreparable harm [...] to the whole of society" and why the Catholic vision of sex, love and, so crucially, our woundedness (see Fr Cummings' article in this issue), is the right alternative to the prevailing hedonistic humanism. We need the conviction and confidence that such a vision can bring. (An example of an integrally Catholic sex education programme for Year 6is given in our Truth Will Set You Free column).

The British Catholic Church finds itself seemingly inextricably embroiled with the latest act of a government which is at the forefront of a hedonistically inspired offensive to redefine the family and human life; it is an onslaught that faces no clear opposition. We to whom has been committed the task of remaining resolute are instead fighting for scraps from the anti-life legislative feast of the "noughties".

It is not that the policy developed by Cardinal Hume in the wake of Vatican II, and alluded to by Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor in the March debate, has been completely wrong. It is just that the developed vision of our traditional Faith, looked for by Vatican II, has not happened in tandem. Thus we have come to the delicate process of negotiating with a new secularism without really knowing where we want to go.

A few months before his beatification we are now staring at the fulfilment of the prophecy made 175 years ago by John Henry Newman in his Development of Christian Doctrine, for we have "woken up with a new world to conquer without the tools to do it". Let us pray to him that the date 23 February 2010 may prove indeed to have been a wake-up call for the British Church to acknowledge frankly where we are now. Only with such shared self-knowledge can we plot a path forward. Only with new inspiration can we rediscover the wisdom and courage to place our lamp upon a hill top in the valley of darkness.


[1]'The guidance goes on to offer "questions schools could explore within SRE". These include, for 11 - to 14-year olds, "What can I expect from contraception and sexual health services and where and when are these services available?"; and, for 15-year-olds, who must now attend SRE, "What sexual and reproductive rights do I have as a young person (including rights relating to information, healthcare, confidentiality and the law)?” -  including information on "reproductive rights".

[2]The DCSF initially defended Mr Balls' statement by arguing on its website that the amendment enabled us to give our "religious views" provided they were not presented;'as the only valid ones" (our emphasis). This DCSF website explanation has been, obligingly it seems, removed. The CES does seem to have the stronger case here. Surely, at least at this stage of our decaying culture, a court would not uphold the Government's attempted imposition of pure relativism upon religious teaching, though we are not far away from the time when it might.

The introduction to the draft guidance states that "while remaining sensitive to the ethos of the school, it is vital that all young people have information about contraception". On 18 February, before the tabling of the amendment, Ed Balls used St Thomas More Catholic School in Bedford as an exemplar of the situation which he was still outlining after the amendment. Apparently the school "fully" informs ^sexually active" young people on how "to protect themselves from pregnancy and STIs" including providing "details of local services". The school itself has, understandably, taken more than a leaf out of the CES's book — it has not directly denied one iota of the Government's statement, but simply issued a statement, on 23 February, virtually cut and pasted from the CES website, statingthat it is "placing [SRE] in the context of the Catholic faith [...] resting on the profound respect found in the Catholic faith for the sanctity of all human life".

[3]On the day of the announcement of Vincent Nichols' elevation to Westminster the Editor of this magazine was in a radio discussion with John Wilkins, former editor of The Tablet, a journal well respected in Church establishment circles. Wilkins expressed a certain fear that Nichols might move us away from being "centre-stage" in British society, and that if he were too critical of aspects of modern society the British people, who have a great tradition of tolerance, might just "shrug their shoulders".

[4]The £246 million spent had, it was claimed, reduced the number of 15- to 17- year-old girls getting pregnant to four in every 100 in 2008, a 13 per cent drop from 1998. Of course, this does not take into account the abortifacient effects of ^contraceptive" pills, especially of the "emergency" variety, increasing access to which is so key to the sex education which the Government has sponsored for decades and now wants to impose. Professor David Paton of Nottingham University was quoted in The Daily Mail as saying the drop "may have been due to population change": the 2009 NSPCC study mentioned in the sexualisation review, for instance, showed that Asian immigrant teenagers were significantly less sexually active than othergroups.

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