Our concerns are varied, as can be judged from accounts of our Assemblies and our Newsletters. Here are some notes on some recurring topics.
CARE FOR CREATION
Pope Francis in his encylical Laudato Si calls on us all to do what we can.
- READ MORE ON OUR “CREATION” PAGE.
The very existence of nuclear weapons poses grave moral questions. Their uniquely destructive power as weapons of mass destruction puts them in a different category from any other weapons.
Efforts to reduce the spread of nuclear arms are governed by International Treaties. Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (the “NPT”) is a key: a bargain struck in 1970 between the then-recognised nuclear weapon states (USA, Russia, China, Britain, France), who undertook to work toward disarmament, and the non-nuclear weapon states who agreed not to pursue the development of such weapons. Progress has been painfully slow, creating anger and frustration.
The treaty had three goals: to limit the number of countries that would have access to nuclear arms; to limit the growth of existing arsenals and to encourage progress toward general nuclear disarmament; to preserve the right of peaceful use of nuclear energy. At the root of the grand bargain, was the proposition that non-nuclear states would renounce any acquisition of nuclear weapons if the nuclear powers agreed to stop their arms race and actively engage in progressive disarmament.
The church has been a powerful moral voice on this issue, criticising deterrence as “morally flawed” while initially allowing “provisional acceptance” of possession of nuclear arms for purposes of deterrence as an “interim” strategy on the way to “progressive disarmament.” The use of weapons of mass destruction was condemned in the 1997 edition of the Church’s Catechism, which says that “Every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation.”
Opinion hardened during the current century. Pope Francis stated in 1999 that the idea of legitimate defence is valid, using weapons as a last resort. But he insisted that nuclear weapons could not be used for defensive purposes. There is a need for pressure to urge governments to take their NPT promises seriously and stop designing and testing new and modernised weapons systems, but rather reducing their importance by making genuine progress in disarmament.
The cynics among us note that the five nuclear powers recognised in 1970 remain the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. An additional attraction to maintaining these arsenals.
After years of work at the United Nations, the ‘Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons’ became part of international law on 22 January 2021.
This includes a comprehensive set of prohibitions on participating in any nuclear weapon activities. States should not develop, test, produce, acquire, possess, stockpile, use or threaten to use nuclear weapons. The Treaty also prohibits the deployment of nuclear weapons on national territory and the provision of assistance to any State in the conduct of prohibited activities. States parties will be obliged to prevent and suppress any activity prohibited under the treaty undertaken by persons or on territory under its jurisdiction or control. It also obliges States parties to provide adequate assistance to individuals affected by the use or testing of nuclear weapons, as well as to take necessary and appropriate measure of environmental remediation in areas under its jurisdiction or control contaminated as a result of activities related to the testing or use of nuclear weapons.
We are promoting Fairtrade in our Parishes, aiming one day to qualify as a Fairtrade Diocese, as Westminster has, meaning that more than 50% of our parishes will have become involved!
Why is it important to become a Fairtrade Diocese?
By choosing Fairtrade products, we play our part in enabling farmers and workers to bring about change today in their own lives and communities, as well as sending out a signal for justice in wider international trade. Becoming a Fairtrade Diocese shows that we want to live more justly in a fairer world. It also demonstrates our solidarity with the poor and disadvantaged rural producers in the developing world and helps show other local communities that we have a practical commitment to helping those in need.
To qualify for Fairtrade Church status a parish must:
» Use Fairtrade tea and coffee for all its meetings and events
» Increase the use of other Fairtrade products such as sugar, biscuits, drinks
» Promote Fairtrade during Fairtrade Fortnight and at other opportunities throughout the year.
Find out more and download an Application Form at the CAFOD website.
(Communities such as parishes and schools can go further and aim for livesimply status by demonstrating that they have been living simply, sustainably with creations and in solidarity with people living in poverty.)
Parishes and individuals are often keen to behave as Ethical Consumers. One consequence is that they try to avoid using companies which have a poor reputation for matters such as concern for the environment and workers rights. A list of online booksellers with better reputations is linked above.
The ethical performance of major retailers can be checked at the Ethical Consumer website. and a short list of some reputed ethical retailers is linked below.
Did you know that the diocese has an Ethical Investment Policy? Find out about it in this article.
Our diocese is noted for its racial diversity. This gives us opportunities both to recognise the suffering that migrants and their families have experienced through misunderstanding, exploitation, insecurity, uncertainty, injustice and poverty, and also to celebrate the rich cultural and spiritual patrimony they bring and to highlight the ways they enrich our parishes.
We should not to be indifferent to those around us, ‘who unsettle us and do not look or speak like us’ but instead identify them as neighbours and reach out to the people we do not know, to migrants, to refugees and people seeking sanctuary who share the pews with us. The Church calls us to be open minded and welcoming to migrants and refugees, to listen to their stories, to celebrate the values they bring, and to stand in solidarity with them.
The gospel values which underpin our witness call us to the service of all, especially the poor and marginalised. Events surrounding the death of Stephen Lawrence and the Report of the subsequent Inquiry, highlighted the reality of ‘institutional racism’ and our common obligation to address it. Institutional racism is a form of structural sin – primarily a sin of omission. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness, and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people. This structural sin is still evident in 2020.
Racism affects all of us. It breaks our communities apart, feeding violence and hate. It breeds injustice and conflict. Racism can be both targeted directly at individuals (such as race related physical attacks or verbal abuse), or it can be institutional (such as employers choosing not to hire certain ethnic groups). In the UK racism is sadly still a reality. For example:
People of mixed race are twice more likely to be victims of racial abuse than white people.
The unemployment rate for ethnic minority groups has consistently been twice that of whites. Recent studies suggest there are high levels of racial discrimination in the labour market.
The percentage of people living in poor housing is higher for all ethnic minority groups than for their white counterparts.
All our diocesan bishops wrote a message to young people in the diocese in June 2020, saying, “We cannot be silent about racism. It must be challenged. In doing so, our first responsibility is to recognise that racism does exist, whether in individuals, in groups, in organisations, or in society. We need to decide the best way to overcome racism, knowing that violence never solves anything, even when injustice makes us angry. Let the energy that comes from our anger be channelled into changing hearts and minds , beginning with our own, to speak the truth in the service of peace.”
In January 2021, Archbishop John Wilson created a new diocesan Commission for Promoting Racial and Cultural Inclusion, which is chaired by Fr Victor Darlington, Parish Priest of Camberwell. The 10-strong Commission team also includes Bishop Pat Lynch, Deacon Alfred Banya and Canon Jim Cronin. It will seek to identify, address and speak out against the evil of racism where it exists, and also explore ways to listen, accompany and support victims of racism, with a view to eliminating this infringement on human dignity, working with parishes, groups, associations and schools to promote racial equality and inclusion in our diocese.
In his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis wrote about a huge range of issues concerning the Church, saying “No to an economy of exclusion. Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalised: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.”
“Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a ‘disposable’ culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the ‘exploited’ but the outcast, the ‘leftovers’.”
“To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase; and in the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.”
The burdens of both World and National Debt inhibit development and we are equally concerned for the problems caused among our parishioners and neighbours by household debts. We encourage the provision of counselling, credit unions and other means of assistance.
St Paul, shipwrecked off Malta.
We work alongside various organisations, especially CAFOD, the development agency of the Church in England and Wales.
CAFOD’s mission is to work alongside the world’s poorest people – without prejudice, without preaching and taking pride in diversity. With CAFOD, we believe that Christian values are best shown through our love for other, and by working for justice and an end to poverty.
The practice of partnership is central to CAFOD’s work overseas. CAFOD relies on local people who have technical expertise and seeks to empower them because they are part of their communities, and so are best placed to respond to genuine needs.
Our world so often seems ruled by greed and corruption. But Catholic Social Teaching undermines self-interest. Gaudium et Spes #69 states that “God intended the earth with everything contained in it for the use of all human beings and peoples… goods should be in abundance for all in like manner.” It continues, “Feed the man dying of hunger, because if you have not fed him, you have killed him”. Our duty is to share resources and strive for justice: neutrality is not enough.
“if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” (Archbishop Desmond Tutu)
MIGRANTS & REFUGEES
Concern for these marginalised groups has long been a feature of the Commission’s work. Back in 1999 a Millennium Refugee Fund was sourced in association with the Jesuit Refugee Service. This work renewed awareness of many projects that supported refugees in the diocese, and the need to work with the relevant offices of the Bishops’ Conference to raise awareness of the poor status that many experienced.
Bishop Patrick Lynch’s involvement with the Church’s national Office for Migration Policy and subsequently with the national and international work of the Santa Marta Group on modern slavery and human trafficking has further inspired us, as does involvement in community sponsorship schemes for housing vulnerable refugees from Syria and nearby.
Asylum Seekers Graves - Coquelles
We are associated along with the Westminster J&P Commission and a number of UK and French individuals and agencies in “People not Walls”. This is .a collaborative cross-Channel partnership concerned to maintain the rights and dignity of of people who find themselves trapped at borders in Europe and deprived of human rights, especially the French-UK border along the coasts of the English Channel. In this, we follow the call made by the late Archbishop Peter Smith when he visited the vulnerable people living in the infamous migrant “Jungle” in Calais in September 2015, in partnership with the Bishop of Dover and the Bishop of Arras.
We take forward the resolve then stated by those bishops, to work to create a climate of welcome for strangers, trusting that they would be joined in this by all who gather in places of prayer along the frontiers of European nations.
A collection of Prayers for Migrants can be found here.
Outside Port of Dover
A significant number of prisons and related facilities are located in South London and Kent and our bishops consistently show their concern for the prisoners and staff by celebrating Mass in prisons on major Feast days.
Prisoners, people with convictions, and their families need support to make a fresh start, and reduce the harm that prison causes to people and to communities. The number sent to prison has more than doubled over the past 30 years and this creates at a major cost to the taxpayer, society and communities. Reoffending on release creates ever more victims of crime.
While the prison population grows, money and resources available to manage that growth are simply not there. More and more prisoners lie on their bunks with little positive to do. There are problems of suicides, rising violence and drug abuse.
Crime is often caused by drug or drink problems, by poor mental health, or through abuse and neglect at an early age. The public deserves a justice system that tackles these underlying causes of crime and invests in prevention and rehabilitation.
Prisoners of conscience are people who have been persecuted for standing up for their rights and beliefs. They may lose jobs and access to public services; they may be barred from participation in social and cultural life; they may be harassed, bullied, intimidated and threatened. Physical and sexual violence are common. Advocacy work shnes a light upon these injustices and can bring about improvements in conditions and the release of some individuals.
In 2012, for 50 days before the Olympics and 50 days after the Paralympics, the Pax Christi Peace Icon moved in relay through parishes around London, creating an Olympic ring of prayer for peace. Among other places, it spent a week at Hartley, in Kent, which has been a place of prayer for peace since a plenary indulgence was granted to the shrine of Our Lady by Pope Benedict XV during the 1st World War, having been impressed by the welcome and shelter given to refugees from the Low Countries. (See a photo and read more here.)