Ten miles in the snow. Barefoot.

Yes, in my day, we had to walk ten miles to school, in the snow, barefoot, carrying our books in our hands, while rabid dogs nipped at our cold, snow covered ankles and tried to steal the lunch that we had to work 27 hours a day to pay for. And we were grateful for it! Well, not really, but it seems that any sort of nostalgic discussion must, inevitably, devolve into a sort of odd, one-downmanship where each had it worse than the one before.

As you may have guessed, this is a post about the good old days, and why I think we shouldn’t give them up just yet. Make no mistake, I am a lover of technology. I’m on almost every social networking site, and my iPhone might as well be grafted to my hand with the amount of time that it spends there. I’m a big fan of computing, and the fact that I no longer have to queue in a bank simply to pay a bill has, on occasion, made me giddy. In short, I wholeheartedly embrace our always-on world, and if and when someone discovers a way to simply transmit information directly to one’s head (perhaps through some sort of implanted USB/Firewire port), I’ll be first in line.

With that said, however, I can’t help but lament at the loss of certain skills which are, in my opinion, timeless. Perhaps it’s  a little “Stepford Wife” of me, but I genuinely enjoy cooking – from scratch. When I bake, there are no mixes. When I cook, there are no pre-prepared vegetables. It’s true that it takes a little longer to peel those potatoes, chop those peppers, and dice that meat, but cooking for real has given me so many valuable skills – the ability to follow a recipe, an understanding of different weight and volume measurements (and conversions between them), and, perhaps most importantly of all, the knowledge of what things are made of. It’s this knowledge that helps me to avoid purchasing completely useless and pointlessly expensive products like this:

Pancake Mix

I promise, this is a real product. And the fact that anyone would buy this makes me despair for the future of hungry people everywhere. (If you are someone who doesn’t know why this is so ridiculous, shame on you!) Pancakes are arguably one of the most simple and versatile things you can make in a kitchen, working with both sweet and savoury fillings, and requiring only the most basic ingredients to make – flour, eggs, and milk. Meaning that this pancake mix is, essentially, flour. Flour in a smaller, and much more expensive bag than any other flour available in the supermarket. This fact isn’t even hidden – the ingredients state pretty clearly that basically the only ingredients are flour, rising agents, and a pinch of salt – i.e. self-raising flour. I honestly cannot fathom why anyone would buy such a product…unless there are an awful lot of people out there who are completely unaware of what pancakes are really made of.

This is not just bothersome because I enjoy cooking – it implies that there are plenty of people without a basic knowledge of cooking, something which I consider an essential skill. Convenience foods exist for those times when it’s simply inconvenient to go through the process of preparation, and while a diet entirely composed of them probably isn’t very healthy, they certainly won’t be too damaging. And I’m sure that, sometimes, it’s lovely to be able to bake some bread without having to activate yeast, wait for dough to proof, etc. This isn’t a convenience food though, this is a “we saw you coming” food, as it’s honestly no more convenient that making pancakes the “hard way”, with your unbranded, non-pancake-mix flour. It’s a package of stupidly expensive flour, designed to be bought by people who don’t look at ingredients. And the fact that they continue to sell it (and that people continue to buy it) makes me honestly worry about the future of baking trays and weighing scales everywhere.

There is a genuine joy in making things yourself, and while it may not always be practical, it is almost always fun. For every kitchen disaster, there will always be a really tasty treat (or at the very least, several too-wonky-to-display cakes to dispose of)

Since today is, apparently, National Punctuation Day, I’m going to roll another “back-in-my-day” complaint into this blog – namely, the slow decline of writing and reading skills. (I will save comment on the fact that virtually every day of the year has now been attributed to some cause or other for another blog). Rather than rehash the same arguments about the fact that children no longer read as much as they used to, I’ll simply touch on a few other points instead.

There is a generation of children and young adults emerging from our schools without a number of basic skills such as penmanship, letter composition, spelling skills, and punctuation usage. We are all working increasingly on computers, and this makes it easy to rely on typing as a means of communication, but penmanship is still important. While it is not necessary for every child to have perfect script, it should at least be legible!

One only has to do a quick Google search to see just how many people have no idea how to lay out a letter (be it a personal letter, or a business letter). Reliance on MS Word (and similar) templates, pre-programmed CV templates, and job-search websites has allowed people to simply forget, or worse, not learn how to put together a basic letter. However prominent the internet and email become in business, it is still important that people can put together a professional looking document if they need to. Personally, I cringe when I receive emails that contain the “Hi” and the following message on the same line; I always insert spaces as if I were writing a traditional letter, not just to be a fuddy-duddy, but because it actually makes the email easier to read and understand.

Finally, we come to spelling and punctuation. It is a particular bug-bear of mine that so little emphasis is placed on correct spelling and punctuation. We arrive to school speaking English, and so, very little time and effort is put into teaching any English grammar. In fact, I recall arriving into my penultimate year in secondary school only to find our entire class being given out some handouts and exercises on basic English grammar, because even then, there were people making the same mistakes. Knowing how to spell and use punctuation isn’t just something boring and archaic, it’s an important skill. Correct spelling and punctuation make it instantly easier to understand whatever it is you’re trying to communicate, and indeed, incorrect spelling, grammar, and punctuation actually impact on the speed at which people read and understand text to a measurable degree.

The thing about grammar is that, just like cooking, it’s all bark and no bite. A grammar book might look like an absolute monster, but the truth is that most grammar rules are quite simple, and even make a lot of sense. Just like following a recipe, following those rules and directions will make your final piece, be it a simple email or a preachy blog post, so much better.

Current Affairs General

Whatever you do, don’t call me an atheist.

It will probably come as no surprise to hear that, on the whole, I’m not a true believer. I don’t believe in God, Allah, Jesus, Mohammed, or any other higher power that is on offer. I have come to this belief (or lack thereof, as the case may be) after many years of thought and personal exploration. I don’t feel the need to “convert” religious people to atheism, nor do I feel a particular need to constantly argue about belief with them. Simply, they believe, and I don’t.

Recently, however, I’ve started including a caveat whenever religion is discussed – I don’t believe in God, but I’m not an atheist. The reason I’ve started doing so is because I find myself disinclined to be associated with some of the more famous atheist names, and some of the more recent atheist activities. I don’t believe in God, but I don’t believe in Dawkins either.

Richard Dawkins is a very talented and intelligent man. His books are interesting, compelling, and convincing reads. Broadly speaking, I believe the same things he does (i.e. in the existence of evolution, that evolution explains our development, that there is no higher spiritual power, etc). I don’t, however, believe that the best way to go about spreading your message is to be abrasive, combative, and, to a certain degree, as extremist as those you deride.

Due to his status as a prominent atheist and his obvious pro-evolution stance, Dawkins appears in countless interviews and programs. One such example, which I found particularly hard to watch, and which demonstrates my difficulty with Dawkins, is his interview with a creationist woman named Wendy Wright. I’ve embedded the first part here, you can follow on to watch the entire interview (7 parts) on youtube.

I found it genuinely difficult to watch this interview all the way through, and probably not for the reasons you might expect. Granted, the creationist is quite annoying and her laugh/dismiss way of answering each question gets old very quickly indeed. But equally annoying is Dawkins’ interview technique; he doesn’t address any of her questions, merely batting them away. Rather than addressing her points, he simply verbally bludgeons her for the duration of the interview. In short, while it is supposed to be an interview, it is actually two people talking beside each other, with neither listening to, or addressing the queries of, the other party.

The documentary “The Root of All Evil?” aka “The God Delusion” is another program which, in my opinion, misses the mark. In this program, Dawkins had the opportunity to address genuine questions and issues, but instead, he simply paraded the worst examples of extremist faith believers possible, to reinforce his own point that religion is the cause of all wrong. While it is true that there are extremist factions associated with almost every religion, the majority of followers of any religion are not represented by these extremists. Choosing only extremists to demonstrate what is wrong with religion is fundamentally flawed – it doesn’t really represent any of those belief systems accurately, and it only demonstrates the beliefs and practices of a minority of followers. Rather than consulting anyone with more moderate beliefs (i.e. one of the majority), Dawkins specifically selects the most extreme believers, knowing that it is much more difficult, if not impossible, to construct an argument for those extremist beliefs that would harm others, for example (who would really argue that it is correct to want all non-Muslims off the lands of Muhammed, and that it is acceptable to resort to violence to achieve that?).

What’s so annoying about this is that it is poor, lazy argument technique. It is harder to paint those with moderate beliefs, the majority, as crazed, dangerous, or insane, so he doesn’t try. And this is exactly the kind of argument that he will not tolerate from any believer, as seen recently in his reaction to the Pope’s comments with regard to atheism and Nazis. The Pope’s comments appear to be directed at atheist extremists, and while it is not made clear what he sees as an extreme atheist, what is clear is that he is, somewhat ironically, employing the same strategy as Dawkins – highlight the worst possible example, and imply that they are the majority. It’s sloppy, lazy, ignorant, and offensive to imply that simply because extremists exist that everyone who believes anything (even if that belief is no belief) agrees with the extreme views. And Dawkins is often as guilty of that as the various Creationists, Muslims, and religious leaders he interviews and rallies against.

I absolutely don’t support the Pope, or any of his declarations that seem to imply the worst of any who don’t believe in God, but that doesn’t mean that I think it’s acceptable to lower myself to his level by painting all religious people as fundamentalist extremist nutters. To do so will, ultimately, achieve nothing; no one will learn anything, it will only serve to prove to each side of the debate that they were right to assume the worst of the others.

Indeed, one could argue that this has been shown by the Pope’s recent visit. The comments made in his speech about atheism rapidly overtook most of the other issues to do with his visit (e.g. child abuse, monies from fund-raising, etc.) and brought out the worst in all concerned, leading to the word Nazi being used more times in the last week than I have seen it used in several years previous. True believers from both sides (yes, atheist “true believers” too) spent the duration of the visit trading verbal blows, and by the time it was all over, both sides were convinced that their assessment of each other was correct. After all, did the Catholics not call atheists Nazis? And did those Nazi atheists not do all within their power to disrupt the Pope’s visit, up to and including threatening arrests, violence, etc? Well, no, not really. An ill advised comment in the Pope’s speech led to a ridiculous game of chinese whispers, resulting in people maintaining that the Pope had said outright that atheists are modern-day Nazis, and overreaction to internet chatter and personal opinion led to prominent atheists (such as Stephen Fry, Terry Pratchett, etc) being virtually tarred and feathered by newspapers, and even to people being arrested, to protect the Pope.

The demonisation of atheism in the media means that many people will believe that the Pope was right to compare atheists to Nazis, and that being an atheist means that you want to murder the Pope, declare anarchy in the Holy See, and redecorate with a combination swastika and pentagram theme. The demonisation of the Pope in the media (mostly internet based, to be honest) means that many people will believe that the Pope actively molested children himself, and that all young people should be kept at a safe distance, lest they be sucked in, molested, and warped by his papal-magnetic-child-bothering field, provided he’s not too busy spending money senselessly and denying any and all accusations.

Time and time again, both sides of the debate engage in the same ridiculous, over-the-top mud slinging, and afterwards, they go home, safe in the knowledge that they were right after all. Surely it is time for a new tactic? Would it not be more effective to ignore the ridiculous comments, and instead focus on the real issues (e.g. child abuse, money, etc)? Would it not be better to prove disparagers wrong by behaving in a dignified and mature way?

Argue against religious belief if you want, but please do so logically, rationally, and well. Using twisted, exaggerated, contorted examples of faith does no one any good, and merely serves to show that fundamentalists exist in every walk of life, even if they choose to call themselves atheists.

Current Affairs Science

The Nonsense about The Origin of Specious Nonsense

Normally, I like to leave a little time between blog posts. This week, however, has been far too full of blog-worthy topics to pass up, so please excuse my break from routine.

One topic doing the rounds of the internet is the launch of a new book by an Irish author, John J May, called The Origin of Specious Nonsense. The author claims that the book will “unceremoniously unashamedly and unmistakably [going to] expose the fiction of evolution”, which is, I think you’ll agree, a pretty big claim for any author to make. Of course, there are plenty of people who launch books that will “change the world”, but what made this one so special was that, for a time at least, it appeared to have the support of our very own Junior Minister for Science (and other stuff), Conor Lenihan.

Mr. Lenihan’s involvement in the launch of this book catapulted what would have otherwise been a banal book launch into the international spotlight, as news services and prominent skeptics (Dara O’Briain, Ben Goldacre, etc) cried foul after picking up the internet buzz about it. Lenihan maintains that he was launching it merely as a friend, and a TD, rather than in his capacity as minister, and therefore saw no issue with it. Perhaps he was not aware that, as a minister for science, his launching a prominently anti-evolution book would cause a stir, or perhaps he was simply hoping that his involvement would not be noticed.

After the story was picked up by news services, there was a dash to back-pedal and save face – the Irish Times tells us that the author asked Mr. Lenihan to withdraw, because he was embarrassed that the minister had been insulted. There was a hurried removal of most (but not all) mentions of Lenihan on the book launch website, and the whole issue seems to have died down. It does, however, raise an interesting question, namely, at what point, if ever, do ministers stop being ministers? Can a minister for science support anti-evolution or similar theories and still be credible in his professional role? Should we require some sort of qualification or relevant experience of our ministers to ensure that they understand the area they govern?

In the spirit of fairness, I perused the author’s launch website, and read the sample chapter provided. After all, it would be unfair to dismiss the author’s theories without first examining them. While you may be expecting me to spend the rest of this post attempting to explain or dissect his arguments, I’m afraid I’ll have to disappoint, because after a careful reading of the samples provided, and the promotional material, I have found not a single properly constructed argument or point that would stand up to even the most basic of scrutiny. That said, this would be a poor entry if I didn’t at least try, so I’ve examined the varied and unconnected points which he attempts to present as arguments, and dissected them instead.

The author poses 7 questions at the start of the sample chapter, which may lead you to believe that he intends to answer them, or refute the accepted scientific answers for them. In actual fact, he does neither – rather, he repeats the 7 questions several times throughout the chapter, at random intervals, apparently simply to fill space! The questions are:

  • How and why do cells split?
  • How do toes know where to grow?
  • How do cells know how to build a heart?
  • How do cells know how to make blood?
  • How does blood have all the right chemicals?
  • How did the reproductive system develop?
  • Was I truly one single cell?

These don’t seem to me like questions that will shake the very foundations of evolutionary theory – in fact, they appear more like the questions of a child who has been studying some basic reproductive biology, and found the book lacking in detail. (And since he continually refers to Cell Diferenciation [sic], one could also say that they are like the questions of a child who possesses neither a dictionary, or a computer with a spell-check function).

The chapter doesn’t appear to have a single coherent point. Instead, it touches lightly on a number of processes that happen during the growth of an embryo and foetus (jumping somewhat erratically around the timeline of foetal development, from 3 weeks to 8 weeks, and back to 7, etc.), deems each of them wonderful (“The triumph of one cell metamorphosing into one beautiful baby”, “wondrous creation”,), and goes on to speculate that they could not possibly be the result of random chance, but must instead be the work of a creator figure: God.

It is irrational to suggest that such molecular action, chemical cleverness, D.N.A. codes, sperm and egg, 46 chromosomes, cellular differentiation, hormones and blood, skin and bone, eyes and heart plus millions of other atomic structures came from nothing – means nothing, will be nothing! And since it is totally irrational I commit it to the realm of ridiculous speculative fantasy. It is far more reasonable to conclude a creator of awesome prodigious intellectual capabilities was – is and forever shall be…

The Cognitive Artistic Genetic Engineer. (God)

He seems to suggest repeatedly that the only alternative theory to his own (which appears to be that we were created by God, i.e. intelligent design) is that we came from nothing, and tries to refute this point. His argument here is moot, however, because the theory of evolution does not state anywhere that we ultimately came from nothing, but that we came from our ancestors, and developed in response to various selective pressures.

In fact, the crux of the “argument” in this chapter appears to be that something so wonderful and clever could not possibly have evolved by accident, and must instead have been designed by God. To support this assertion, he simply refers to random biological occurrences and body parts, and several photos of foetuses, and asks us to agree either that they came from nothing, or that they came from God – in short, a poorly constructed straw-man argument that is barely worth blowing down. Indeed, towards the end of the chapter, his whole argument hinges on a picture of a small child with (presumably) her parents, as he implores us to believe that “It is quite simply not credible that this beautiful baby combining physical characteristics of both parents, plus linkingand [sic] strengthening two humans into three in love came from nothing!”.

In addition to some fairly questionable arguing strategies, there is also the fact that some of his sentences simply don’t make any sense. For example, later in the chapter, after demanding that we stop ignoring God and believing that pregnancy is proof of evolution, he writes:

Mental dysfunction manifests itself clearly through disassociation from reality and evinces shades of psychosis. I think the epithetmost [sic] descriptive of intelligent individuals who embrace evolution and reject reason is FANTASISTS. [sic]

What is he trying to say with the above sentence? That mental dysfunction is a result of belief in evolution, or a lack of belief in God? That psychosis is preventable if you believe as he does? Or perhaps he intends to imply that believe in evolution means that you are a “fantasist”, and that mental dysfunction is merely a side effect of those living in the evolution-believing fantasy? Leaving aside those unpalatable and ridiculous notions, there is also the fact that the sentence construction is poor, and the word usage, appalling – a trait seen throughout the chapter, and doubtless throughout the book. There is little use of punctuation, and where it is used, it is often used incorrectly. I am certain that, given enough time, a child of 10 could produce an equivalent document with fewer errors.

The book promotion website is full of jaded promotional phrases, and ludicrous attempts to attach credible names to the book itself. Below are just some of the more ridiculous statements found on the website. For clarity, my own comments on each are included in blue.

  • “From author John J May comes the most controversial book in decades” – I wonder how many “most controversial” books that makes this decade?
  • “It is a non academic attempt which is currently very popular worldwide due to the brilliant observationalist naturalist Charles Darwin’s 200 year birth anniversary and 150 years celebration of his monumental laughable fantasy, The Origin of Species which I have read forensically and counted 1550 suppositions.” – Is he saying that non-academic academic books are popular, that his unorthodox approach is popular?
  • The international appeal of such a book is evident by four of the worlds best known innocent atheist evolutionary authors, (Plus many others) Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel C Dennett, et al – The appeal of the book is evident by other authors who vehemently disagree with the kind of things he’s saying in his book? Aside from the ludicrous idea that his book is of the same calibre as any written by those mentioned, that sentence doesn’t even make sense! These names are literally pasted in large text, before smaller text decries them as people who have “sacrificed reason on the alter of Chance, Mutations, Randomness which is a concoction for chaos”
  • “The Origin Of Specious Nonsense” is a plea for sanity and reason in a dangerous world further morally polluted by the corrupting hoax of evolution as tragically illustrated by the Columbine High School killers ten years ago in the USA. Those two deluded young men spoke on video about “Helping out the process of natural selection by eliminating the weak.” One of them Eric Harris on the day of the massacre actually wore a T-shirt with the words.. “Natural Selection” – Included in the “Mission Statement” on the website is the above quote. To imply that evolution, as a theory, had any bearing on the actions of the teenagers who carried out the Columbine killings is simply ridiculous. In an attempt to weaken arguments for the theory of evolution, he is attempting to attach a horrific event to it, when in fact the two are completely unrelated.

Essentially, the website contains more of the same weak rhetoric found within the book – it’s unconvincing, badly structured nonsense. May’s understanding of evolution appears to be very poor, and based on flawed information, and so all premises based on his understanding are fundamentally flawed. In addition, the arguments he presents against evolution are not based in fact, but rather on opinion, and there is no evidence to support them (unlike evolution, for which there is plentiful evidence).

This is a book that would have faded into obscurity, like so many other self-published works (yes, surprisingly, the book is self published by a vanity publisher in Ireland), without so much as a blip and no hope of a second print run. Sadly, due to the ill-advised involvement of a prominent politician, even for a short while, John J May has received the kind of publicity that every raving lunatic with €2000 and a word processing program can only dream of. I can only hope that the fuss will disappear as quickly as it appeared, and then Mr. May can go back to handing out pamphlets on Grafton Street alongside the other “respected and revolutionary” authors of our time.

Current Affairs

Holy Marmite!

After careful consideration, I have come to the conclusion that Pope Benedict (aka Joseph Ratzinger) is essentially the Marmite of public figures at the moment – people either love him, or hate him; overall, there seem to be very few with a moderate opinion of him.

With his planned visit to the UK imminent, tensions between both sides (the lovers and the haters) have reached a fever pitch. There are planned protests alongside planned vigils, as much supportive merchandise as there is anti-Pope merchandise, and more than one person planning to attempt a citizens arrest upon his arrival in the UK. If nothing else, the visit promises to be an interesting one.

One bone of contention is with the organisation of the events. People planning to attend are being told that they must give a donation of £20. This is apparently to cover the costs associated with his visit, and to help cover a shortfall in church funds. They hope to raise £7,000,000 to cover all of the costs associated with the visit, and helpfully break down these planned expenditures on the website. Apparently, they will be spending the money as follows:

In total the expected costs now associated with these events is £5.2m. Direct costs associated with three smaller pastoral events also fall to the Church – these are likely to be £600k in total. Then in addition to that, there are costs involved in planning and preparing for the visit, with our own website and communications work (£650k), and fundraising (£200k) Finally the Bishops are developing a range of catechetical and evangelisation materials to anticipate and follow through on the likely increased interest and attention that the Visit will generate in the Catholic Church. (£350k).

Having performed some basic math, I am left with some questions; as far as I can see, 7 million is rather a lot more than 5.2 million. And indeed, adding up all of the figures presented gives a total of 3.6 million, not 5.2 – so where exactly is all that extra “donation” money going to go? Finally, as stated on the official visit website, the UK government are actually paying most of the associated visit costs themselves, including security costs, which leads me to wonder at what the rest of the 7 million is being allocated for. (And, on a less serious note, I also wonder exactly how many Pope t-shirts are they making, if their merchandising costs are 350,000!). I think that, given the rather mandatory nature of the “donation”, it would not be unreasonable to expect them to explain, even roughly, how this extra money will be put to use, especially considering just how much money it is. Perhaps they could use some of the leftover money to pay compensation to the victims of sexual abuse, whom they were previously too poor to compensate.

This, of course, leads us on to the major sticking point about this visit – the issue of child sex abuse within the church. It is no longer news that, for a long time, children were systematically sexually and physically abused within the church, by priests and carers. The fact has been well established, and proven. Unfortunately, most of this proof has been obtained without the help of the church, or Pope Benedict, due to his continued refusal to cooperate in any way with any investigations into the abuses.

Many say that Pope Benedict is being unfairly targeted as the head of an organisation where abuse was endemic, and that he cannot be blamed for things that happened before he was in a position of leadership. I respectfully disagree. Prior to becoming Pope, Joseph Ratzinger held the position of Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In this position, he was responsible for defending and reaffirming doctrine , and teaching on important topics, such as homosexuality, inter-religious dialogue, etc. In addition to this, however, the Congregation also has jurisdiction over other matters, such as clerical sexual misconduct, serving as a sort of “court” to deal with priests accused of misconduct.

Ratzinger held his position as Prefect of the Congregation from 1981 until 2005, a time during which child sexual abuse was rampant within the church. There is evidence to suggest that details pertaining to a large number of cases were reviewed by Ratzinger, and that they were ignored – the priests moved to a different parish, those involved sworn to secrecy, and no charges brought. For example, as recently as April of this year, a letter was discovered in which it appears that, in 1985, while Prefect, Ratzinger refused to laicize (to de-priest, so to speak) Father Kiesle, a priest accused of molesting several boys in California. Not only was Kiesle not defrocked or laicized, but he was not reported to the police, and no further action was taken, despite admissions by the priest that he had abused the boys.

There have been several documents leaked which purport to show Ratzinger’s involvement in the cover-up of sexual abuse within the church. Sadly, the only way these documents can come to light is when they are leaked, because to date, Ratzinger has refused to cooperate with any investigations. No documentation has been provided to investigating authorities, and when Ratzinger was personally accused of covering up the abuse of three Texan boys, rather than take the stand, he demanded (and received) diplomatic immunity, preventing his prosecution.

In short, it would certainly appear that Ratzinger does not want thorough investigation into the allegations of sexual abuse, a position which seems to be supported by the Crimen Sollicitationis document, in which those involved in trials are sworn to secrecy within the church, under threat of excommunication. This document remained in force until 2001 (when it was replaced by new, still inadequate, rules), yet Ratzinger still holds to church secrecy about the abuses.

At this point, I can only refer to the old adage – an honest man has nothing to hide. Surely it is in the best interests of all involved for there to be full disclosure of all documentation, all actions taken or not taken, and all parties involved? And surely, if Ratzinger was not involved, as his supporters claim, then he would have no problem disclosing the information and letting an investigation proceed unhampered? Regardless of their position within the church, no man is above the law of the land, and there is no land in which child sexual abuse is lawful. As such, it is both his legal, and moral duty to disclose the information, and see to it that a proper and thorough investigation is carried out, and that those who were in the wrong are brought to justice.

The issue of child sex abuse within the church is not one that can be ignored, or swept under the carpet. Regardless of how obstructive the church are, the truth will out. I believe, therefore, that it would be in the best interests of everyone involved to simply allow the investigation to proceed, and help where they can. Even if it is not something that they feel morally obliged to do, it is something that they are legally obliged to do.

With all of the above in mind, I’m afraid to say that I cannot, in good conscience, support a visit by the Pope to the UK, or to anywhere. In my opinion, if the church wants to reaffirm the faith of the congregation, it should not be looking to do so by spending money, and begging for money to spend, on organising visits. It should, instead, be focusing on investigating the problems that have emerged, on making amends to those who were wronged, and on proving that they are examples of the truly faithful to which they hope we aspire. The people involved should be honest about their wrongs, ask for forgiveness, and accept their penance, whatever it may be. After all, is that not what they ask of us?