Friday, 8 January 2021

Important update regarding Covid-19 vaccines, made or tested using cell lines from aborted foetuses

 Friday, 8 January 2021

Important clarification regarding Covid-19 vaccines, made or tested using cell lines from aborted foetuses.

The following article appeared today on the web-site 'Abyssa Abyssum Invocat', the article itself being reproduced from the 'Children of God for Life' website,  which deals in depth with the question of the currently available Covid-19 vaccines, made or tested using cell lines from aborted foetuses. There has been much confusion about the moral legitimacy or other-wise,  of  these vaccines, and this article considers all known facts concerning the individual vaccines, and includes in detail the official teaching of the Catholic Church on this matter. The 'Children of God for Life' is a highly respected Catholic authoritative voice, with many years experience, on all matters appertaining to the ethical practice of pharmaceutical companies in relation to the manufacture of their products, especially as to whether and to what degree they are manufactured or tested using cell lines from aborted foetuses. The article is comprehensive and quite long, but clear and understandable in its conclusions, and offers a sound foundation on which to base our moral decisions on these matters. Strongly recommended.

New post on Children of God for Life COVID-19 Vaccine & HEK293: Testing and Production are Ethically Equal by Stacy Trasancos

The phrase “confirmatory testing” has been invoked as the basis for the ethical consideration of the three lead COVID-19 vaccines, Moderna, Pfizer, and AstraZeneca. Moderna and Pfizer are considered more morally permissible because their connection to abortion is very remote since they only used an aborted fetal cell line in something called “a confirmatory test.” AstraZeneca, in contrast, grows the vaccine in fetal cell lines in an ongoing way, and moral theologians say it should be avoided in favor of Moderna or Pfizer.

This critical phrase, “confirmatory test,” is due for an examination. I will argue that testing and production are ethically equal if the testing is ongoing. The purpose of this argument is to put aside the COVID-19 ethical debates and unite as one voice to call for an end to the use of aborted children in research.

Point 1: "Remote cooperation in evil" is not a new term.  To quickly review the ethics, the moral liceity of using vaccines produced in fetal cell lines is not a new judgment. The Pontifical Academy for Life in 2005, and three years later in 2008 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in its “Instruction Dignitas Personae on Certain Bioethical Questions,” provided guidelines for Catholics on the permissibility of receiving vaccines whose origins are connected with cells coming from an aborted child.  Such vaccines were deemed morally illicit, but their use is morally licit in certain situations because the patient's use is only "remote cooperation in evil."  It is not, after all, the fault of the patient that researchers, industries, and government provide no alternative.  

Permission for using unethically produced vaccines comes with obligations, however. Use is only licit if:

1) the need to protect individuals and populations is grave,
2) there is no alternative,
3) we continue to reject the evil of abortion and the use of aborted children in research. Parents and doctors have been operating under these guidelines for several decades. At both an individual and a social level, it is difficult to, on one hand, accept the vaccines while, on the other hand, reject them. At the individual level, the faithful must exercise prudential judgment. Just like the Church does not dictate whom to marry or how many children to raise, the Church provides moral guidance on vaccines. We all must make our own decision. To do that about vaccines, we need good scientific information too. At a social level, it is undeniably harder to make the case against abortion and the use of aborted children in research when moral theologians have made it known that benefiting from these practices can be morally licit

.Point 2: Moral assessment depends on accurate information.To navigate the morality of novel situations in challenging times, accurate information is necessary. A review of the science seems warranted, especially since so much information has been circulating and we now have some benefit of hindsight. Traditional attenuated virus vaccines are grown in cells. Much like a seed needs soil to grow, the weakened form of the viruses for vaccines need a medium to grow. Vaccines that are grown in HEK293, or any other abortion-derived cells, are morally illicit. HEK293 cells are a cell line derived from a healthy aborted child in the 1970s. The cells were cultured by scientist Alex Van der Eb and Frank Graham in their lab at the University of Leiden, Holland. The name HEK stands for “human embryonic kidney,” the 293rd experiment. It is worth noting that these were not early embryos as we use the word today but what we now identify as fetuses. The aborted child had to be old enough for the adrenal organs to have developed. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are new kinds of vaccines called mRNA vaccines. These are not grown in cells but synthesized as molecules. The mRNA is coated in a nanolipid and injected into the body where it synthesizes (expresses) the spike protein (an antigen). The immune system responds with antibodies. The spike protein is the part of the coronavirus that interacts with the body’s cells, so if the immune system builds up antibodies to the spike antigen, we are protected against the whole COVID-19 virus.

On August 5, 2020, the pre-clinical trials for the Moderna vaccine were published in the journal Nature, “SARS-CoV-2 mRNA vaccine design enabled by prototype pathogen preparedness.” The team of researchers described testing protocols. According to the methods section, the in vitro mRNA expression lab tests were done by transiently transfecting (introducing) HEK293 cells with mRNA that encodes for the spike protein. They did this test to see if the mRNA would make the spike protein in the cells like it is supposed to do in the body. The team also tested the vaccine on mice and demonstrated that it induced antibodies against COVID-19 infection .Likewise, on September 8, 2020, Pfizer’s team published their pre-clinical trials, “A prefusion SARS-CoV-2 spike RNA vaccine is highly immunogenic and prevents lung infection in non-human primates.” They also reported results from in vitro mRNA expression lab tests. The mRNA molecule was incubated in HEK293 cells followed by structural characterization of the expressed protein. Tests in rhesus macaques and mice were also successful .Both Moderna and Pfizer, then, claim to use HEK293 in in vitro lab testing for their vaccines.

Point 3: Focus on "confirmatory testing" derailed the ethics. The in vitro testing was ignored for the most part. Back in May of 2020, the Charlotte Lozier Institute had claimed that both the Moderna and the Pfizer vaccines are “ethically uncontroversial” because they do not use fetal cell lines. An mRNA vaccine is not grown in cells like traditional vaccines are, so it seemed at the time, perhaps, that the ethical issue had been avoided. At the end of September, nearly two months after the Moderna report and one month after the Pfizer (mentioned above), Charlotte Lozier updated their summary to say that Moderna and Pfizer use the HEK293 fetal cell line in research and something called “confirmatory testing.” This term was not, at that time, defined in terms of exactly what the researchers were doing in the laboratory. Unfortunately the term was interpreted by Catholic scientists, bioethicists, and theologians as a one-time test, which was taken to mean that the connection to abortion was doubly or triply remote because not only did the vaccine not touch the cells, it was not produced in the fetal cell line in an ongoing way. By mid-November as the phase III trials were completed on thousands of people, the message spread rapidly that the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine pose no ethical issues, again, without any specific definition of the meaning of “confirmatory test.” Meanwhile Moderna’s stock went from $67 per share on October 30 to $170 by December 8, 2020.To be clear, it is not apparent whether there is any causation to this correlation, but this much is a fact of history now. The bioethicists, moral theologians, and clergy did not question the meaning of this phrase "confirmatory testing" as the message spread widely that these vaccines are ethically uncontroversial. It began as reports of successful phase III trials for Moderna were published on November 16. Wesley J. Smith of the Discovery Institute wrote at National Review that “Moderna COVID Vaccine Did Not Use Fetal Cells,” citing the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute. On November 17, Dr. John Brehany, director of institutional relations at the National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC), was quoted by the Catholic News Agency in “The ethics of Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine” as saying that while Moderna has some association with the use of cell lines from elective abortions, “its vaccine was not produced using HEK293 cells.” On November 18, Zelda Caldwell wrote at Aleteia that “Both Moderna and Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccines were made without fetal cells,” again citing the Charlotte Lozier Institute. The author stated, “Unlike some other vaccines in development, both vaccines were made without the use of fetal cells, or for that matter, any cells at all.” On November 22, Public Discourse, the journal of the Witherspoon Institute founded by Ryan Anderson, published an article by Fr. Matthew Schneider, “Vaccines and Doubly Remote Cooperation in Evil,” claiming that “both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines seem to pose no significant moral concern.” Fr. Schneider cited the Charlotte Lozier Institute stating that the difference between production and testing provides another level of remoteness. If HEK293 is used in testing, he reasoned, it is not morally problematic because “a test is done once and is already completed by the time you get vaccinated.” Many more authors commented from there, too many to list. The NCBC published a statement on December 8 titled “Points to Consider on the Use of COVID-19 Vaccines.” The language was repeated, saying that these two vaccines “do not use abortion derived cell lines in the manufacturing process but did use them at one point in development, such as for confirmatory testing.” NCBC said they are “preferable to those that utilize abortion-derived cell lines in more than one phase of development and, in particular, in the manufacturing process .”This message spread throughout the United States and even to the Vatican. Crux reported: “The Pontifical Academy for Life and Catholic bishops around the world, including the chairmen of the U.S. bishops’ doctrine and pro-life committees, have said it is not immoral to be vaccinated with vaccines like the Pfizer/BioNTech product because any connection they have to aborted fetuses is extremely remote. Such cells derived from those fetuses were used only in a testing phase but not in the production phase.” On December 11, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) released a statement, “Moral Considerations Regarding the New COVID-19 Vaccines,” echoing the idea that some pharmaceutical companies are “making use of a morally compromised cell line only for a confirmatory test of the vaccine’s efficacy.” The language was repeated in diocese after diocese after diocese (etcetera) as encouragement to use the Moderna or Pfizer instead of other vaccines grown in fetal cell lines spread. The bishops found the AstraZeneca vaccine to be “more morally compromised” and consequently concluded that this vaccine “should be avoided” if there are alternatives available .At a time when Catholics should have been united with one voice demanding that the market provide ethically produced vaccines, we instead missed the moment to effectively protest.

Point 4: Ongoing quality control testing is the determining factor. So, what kind of testing is done during production? That is the critical question relevant to the moral assessment. The answer is: we do not know, but we can look in the scientific reports linked above for an idea. The in vitro lab tests described in both Moderna’s and Pfizer’s pre-clinical trial reports were not ever claimed to be a one-time confirmatory test, not even by the companies themselves. No one used that language except the Charlotte Lozier Institute and those who referenced them. Typically, in research and development, scientists use pure knowledge gained from the scientific method (research) and apply it to solve problems. Once a potential product has been identified, work to bring the product to market (development) begins. If that is successful, the goal is then to figure out how to scale up the lab synthesis to a manufacturing facility, the same way a cook scales up a recipe to feed a crowd. Small problems are magnified when you go from feeding four to feeding four hundred, and they need their own solutions .For the mRNA vaccines, it only makes sense that the in vitro lab test (described above) would also become an essential part of the production process for ensuring the vaccine is produced as it was designed in the laboratory, especially a development that was as rushed as the COVID-19 vaccines to distribute globally. In manufacturing, this production testing is commonly known as quality control (QC) testing. Even bottling water requires strict quality control testing. Therefore, when an R&D project is scaled up to production, it is standard practice to migrate the same lab tests from research and development to quality control. That is, simply, how the scientists and engineers know they are making the same product as designed in the lab. Quality control testing is not separate from, or ancillary to, production; to repeat, it is essential to production, a mature applied science unto itself, existential to manufacturing. Imagine the consequences if a pharmaceutical company started producing vaccines without ongoing testing! The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) explains how a new vaccine is developed and approved for manufacturing. Moderna’s and Pfizer’s pre-clinical trials follow the plan. Vaccine development is done in the laboratory before tests are done on animals and then humans. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also must approve manufacturing to make sure they comply with the “Current Good Manufacturing Practice” regulations. The FDA regulates the quality of pharmaceuticals very carefully because batches of medicines must meet quality standards to ensure safety and effectiveness. Quality control testing is key. The new vaccines for COVID-19 are being rushed to production under an emergency approval process, so we do not know what the licensed manufacturing plan will be. Since the HEK293 cell line is used in the in vitro lab test, it stands to reason that it is part of the production process to ensure the mRNA is synthesized and performs as expected. Some bioethicists have argued that the remoteness lies in the fact that the vaccine injected into the body does not contain fetal cells or touch fetal cells, but this is irrelevant to the ethical question. The determining criteria is whether the aborted fetal cell line is used in ongoing production .Hence: Quality control testing and production are ethically equal. To summarize, if the in vitro lab test is part of the production manufacturing protocol, and it almost certainly is, then the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are no different ethically than the AstraZeneca vaccine or any other vaccine grown in fetal cell lines. In both cases, the production of the vaccine depends on the ongoing use of the illicit fetal cell line. To accept the vaccine means accepting the continued use of cells originating from an aborted child. Given the horrifying way aborted children are still being butchered for scientific research, we cannot be complacent. So: Stick with zero-tolerance of abortion .It is troubling that the moral assessment of the COVID-19 vaccines depended on the use of an ambiguous term. Such vagueness renders individual prudential judgement impossible. More so, it has cost us in the effort for social change toward the sanctity of life How will Catholics effectively protest the use of aborted children in research when industry, university, and government officials know that Church leaders will deem it morally licit for the 77 million US Catholics to benefit from such research without much of a critical assessment? There is a solution though .When I was a home-schooling mom, we had a saying among us about evil. We used it when our kids wanted to argue that a little wrong should be okay. "It's like poop in brownies," we saliently said. "If I baked you a pan of brownies and told you that I accidently got some of the baby's poop in the mix while stirring the batter, would you eat a brownie from the pan? "Obviously, no. It does not matter if there is the tiniest smudge of poop, or if there is one or two bigger chunks, nobody is having it. In the professional realm, we call this "zero-tolerance." A company that has a zero-tolerance policy for sexual abuse, for example, is not going to engage in a debate about whether one case of employee abuse is acceptable while two or three would cross a line. None of it is acceptable. To bring this idea into the COVID-19 vaccine and aborted fetal cell line debate, I propose that the pro-life community get back zero-tolerance of the evil of abortion. We should stop arguing about whether testing is better than production and specifically demand that all testing and production be ethically performed. And then we should focus our energy on demanding an end to the use of aborted children in research and an end to abortion absolutely. As the Pontifical Academy for Life and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith instruct, that should have been the guiding principle all along .Stacy Trasancos is executive director of St. Philip Institute, chief research officer of Children of God for Life. She was senior research chemist at DuPont, has a PhD in chemistry, MA in dogmatic theology, and seven children .Stacy Trasancos | January 7, 2021 at 5:28 pm | URL:

With grateful acknowledgement to 'Children of God for Life' and 'Abyssa Abyssum Invocat'

Monday, 7 December 2020

Covid - 19 Vaccine ---- ETHICAL OPTIONS


Measuring Moderna’s COVID-19 Vaccine: Now’s the Time to Press Hard for Ethical Options

Despite reports that Moderna’s vaccine has no connection to fetal cell lines from elective abortions, the creation of the company’s COVID-19 vaccine isn’t so morally clear cut.

A new vaccine that protects against COVID-19 is nearly 95% effective, early data from company Moderna shows.
A new vaccine that protects against COVID-19 is nearly 95% effective, early data from company Moderna shows. (photo: Justin Tallis)

TYLER, Texas — Because there are differing claims about the ethics of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, some clarifications need to be made, especially since phase III trials are concluding. What Catholics are willing to accept as ethical, despite unethical associations, for the first COVID-19 vaccines released publicly could influence the availability of more ethically sound options going forward. 

Bishop Joseph Strickland in the Diocese of Tyler, who is known for his straight talk and defense of the faith, tweeted on Nov. 16: “Moderna vaccine is not morally produced. Unborn children died in abortions and then their bodies were used as ‘laboratory specimens.’ I urge all who believe in the sanctity of life to reject a vaccine which has been produced immorally.”

On Nov. 17, a Catholic News Agency (CNA) article compared Bishop Strickland’s position to that of bioethicists at the Charlotte Lozier Institute (CLI) and the National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC). 

CLI lists the Moderna vaccine as “ethically uncontroversial,” a category they describe as having no connection to the use of cells from electively aborted fetuses. Dr. John Brehany, director of institutional relations at NCBC, told CNA that while Moderna “has some association with the use of cell lines from elective abortions, it is not responsible for that use, and its vaccine was not produced using HEK293 cells.” 

The HEK293 referenced by Dr. Brehany is a fetal cell line derived from an aborted fetus in the 1970s. The claim that Moderna did not use HEK293 to produce the COVID-19 vaccine does not seem to line up with other available information. 

Moderna’s vaccine is not a traditional vaccine that injects an attenuated or dead form of the virus into the body to trigger an immune response. Instead, scientists used the genetic sequence of the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, to isolate the code for the spike protein and encode instructions for making it in an mRNA molecule. The spike protein is the part of the coronavirus that attaches to human immune cells. 

Working together, scientists at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and Moderna identified the sequence for the spike protein. (See explanation by Moderna here.) According to their jointly published pre-clinical study in Nature journal from August 2020, HEK293 cells were used for spike protein and mRNA expression to develop and test the vaccine. The report is posted on Moderna’s website

There are 64 authors on the research team: 30 from NIAID, 18 from Moderna, nine from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and seven more total from Vanderbilt University, the University of Texas at Austin, and George Washington University. The scientific report says that the lead researchers from Moderna, NIAID, and UNC contributed equally to the research. The team successfully demonstrated that the mRNA vaccine induced antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 infection in the lungs and nose of mice.

This mRNA, in this case, is the vaccine. It is injected into the body via a lipid nanoparticle delivery system. Once in the body, the mRNA is expressed as the spike protein, and the body responds by generating antibodies against the spike, which therefore protects the person from coronavirus infection. 

In a patent Moderna filed in 2019 presenting similar technology with mRNA, they repeatedly describe the use of HEK293 cells, including in the development of the lipid nanoparticle delivery system. 

So, the claim that Moderna’s vaccine is “ethically uncontroversial” because it has no connection to unethically derived materials does not seem to be supported as both the development of the spike protein sequence, the mRNA expression in testing, and the lipid nanoparticle delivery system are described as using the HEK293 cell line derived from an aborted fetus. 

Instead of assigning this vaccine to a category that suggests no more caution is needed, I think it is better to slow down and look at the big picture. The COVID-19 vaccine is not a vaccine that was produced decades ago. We are not like the parents who sit in doctors’ offices accepting a morally tainted vaccine because there are no alternatives while voicing an objection that goes nowhere. Rather, we are talking about a vaccine currently in development, a vaccine that could be required for the entire population in a year’s time, a new kind of vaccine that has never gone to market before and will certainly undergo more testing and development. This means that we can’t passively accept the possibility of morally tainted work. We need to speak up loudly with clarity and courage about the ethics and insist upon an ethical option. It could redirect this entire issue towards the good.

In 2005, the Pontifical Academy for Life (PAL), in response to Debra Vinnedge, Founder of Children of God for Life, provided clarification for parents confronted with childhood vaccines produced using fetal cell lines. Bioethicists today often cite this document as reluctant support for using unethically produced vaccines if there is no alternative. But that is not all the Vatican instructed. 

The document also said that vaccines produced “as a result of the use of biological material whose origin is connected with cells coming from foetuses voluntarily aborted” is morally illicit. This appears to apply to the Moderna vaccine. 

The PAL also notes that various cooperating agents can have different moral responsibilities, so a vaccine that was connected to fetal cell lines only in the early research and testing but not in the market production and quality control would be a better vaccine than one that used fetal cell lines in the ongoing production. This would not render the vaccine ethically uncontroversial, however, but it would be a step in the right direction.

The PAL also said that producers of vaccines that relied on fetal cell lines have an obligation to “denounce and reject publicly the original immoral act (the voluntary abortion)” and to “dedicate themselves together to research and promote alternative ways, exempt from moral evil.” Moderna has issued no such statements.

The PAL also said that faithful citizens of upright conscience are obligated to oppose the use of fetal cell lines in vaccines. We must oppose attacks against life, which is exactly what Bishop Strickland is doing. 

This is not a time for equivocation. There is already too much confusion in our culture and in the Church. With the development of the COVID-19 vaccines currently ongoing now is the time to insist upon ethical options that respect the dignity of human life. 

Bishop Strickland is right to declare that “unborn children died in abortions and then their bodies were used as laboratory specimens” when they were dissected for cells to grow into cell lines. He is right to “urge all who believe in the sanctity of life to reject a vaccine which has been produced immorally.” Bishop Strickland is speaking the truth: he is being clear and consistent in evaluating both Moderna’s claims and the Vatican’s guidance when he says that “Moderna vaccine is not morally produced.” He is concerned with building civilization and guarding the deposit of faith, as a bishop should be. 

The good news is that there are ethical COVID-19 vaccines in production, lots of them. We must support those and keep our eyes on the long-term goal. We have a chance in this moment in history to demand ethical vaccines as the norm not the alternative if we stay vigilant.

Stacy Trasancos is the author of Particles of Faith: A Catholic Guide to Navigating Science published by Ave Maria Press. She has a PhD in chemistry and a MA in dogmatic theology, and she is the Executive Director of Bishop Strickland’s St. Philip Institute in Tyler, Texas.

      NB. See link below- 'children of God for life' for updated lists of moral/immoral covid - 19 vaccination choices.

Wednesday, 14 October 2020

'The Travellers in State' by G.K.Chesterton

                                                     The Travellers in State 

The other day, to my great astonishment, I caught a train; it was a train going into the Eastern Counties, and I only just caught it. And while I was running along the train (amid general admiration) I noticed that there were a quite peculiar and unusual number of carriages marked ‘Engaged’. On five, six, seven, eight, nine carriages was pasted the little notice: at five, six, seven, eight, nine windows were big bland men staring out in the conscious pride of possession.  Their bodies seemed more than usually impenetrable, their faces more than usually placid. It could not be the Derby, if only for the minor reasons that it was the opposite direction and the wrong day. It could hardly be the King. It could hardly be the French President. For, though these distinguished persons naturally like to be private for three hours, they are at least public for three minutes. A crowd can gather to see them step into the train; and there was no crowd here, or any police ceremonial.

Who were those awful persons, who occupied more of the train than a bricklayer’s bean-feast, and yet were more fastidious and delicate than the King’s own suite? Who were these that were larger than a mob, yet more mysterious than a monarch? Was it possible that instead of our Royal House visiting the Tsar, he was really visiting us? Or does the House of Lords have a break-fast? I waited and wondered until the train slowed down at some Station in the direction of Cambridge. Then the large, impenetrable men got out, and after them got out the distinguished holders of the engaged seats. They were all dressed decorously in one colour, they had neatly cropped hair, and they were chained together.

I looked across the carriage at its only other occupant, and our eyes met. He was a small, tired-looking man, and, as I afterwards learnt, a native of Cambridge; by the look of him, some working tradesman there, such as a journeyman tailor or a small clock-mender.  In order to make conversation I said I wondered where the convicts were going. His mouth twitched with the instinctive irony of our poor, and he said; “I don’t  s’pose they’re goin’ on an ‘oliday at the seaside with little spades and pails.” I was naturally delighted, and, pursuing the same vein of literary convention, I suggested that perhaps Dons were taken down to Cambridge chained together like this.  And as he lived in Cambridge, and had seen several Dons, he was pleased with such a scheme. Then when we had ceased to laugh, we suddenly became quite silent; and the bleak, grey eyes of the little man grew sadder and emptier than an open sea. I knew what he was thinking, because I was thinking the same, because all modern sophists are only sophists, and there is such a thing as mankind. Then at last (and it fell in as exactly as the right last note of a tune one is trying to remember) he said: “Well, I s’pose we ‘ave to do it.” And in those three things, his first speech and his silence and his second speech, there were all the three great fundamental facts of the English democracy, its profound sense of humour, its profound sense of pathos, and its profound sense of helplessness. 

It cannot be too often repeated that all real democracy is an attempt (like that of a jolly hostess) to bring the shy people out.  For every practical purpose of a political state, for every practical purpose of a tea-party, he that abases himself must be exalted. At a tea-party it is equally obvious that he that exalteth himself must be abased, if possible without bodily violence.  Now people talk of democracy as being coarse and turbulent:  it is a self-evident error in mere history.  Aristocracy is the thing that is always coarse and turbulent: for it means appealing to the self-confident people. Democracy means appealing to the diffident people. Democracy means getting those people to vote who would never have the cheek to govern: and (according to Christian ethics) the precise people who ought to govern are the people who have not the cheek to do it. There is a strong example of this truth in my friend in the train.  The only two types we hear of in this argument about crime and punishment are two very rare and abnormal types.

We hear of the stark sentimentalist, who talks as if there were no problem at all; as if physical kindness would cure everything; as if one need only pat Nero and stroke Ivan the Terrible. This mere belief in bodily humanitarianism is not sentimental; it is simply snobbish. For if comfort gives men virtue, the comfortable classes ought to be virtuous – which is absurd. Then, again we do hear of the yet weaker and more watery type of sentimentalist. I mean the sentimentalist who says, with a sort of splutter, “Flog the brutes!” or who tells you with innocent obscenity “what he would do” with a certain man – always supposing the man’s hands were tied.

This is the more effeminate type of the two; but both are weak and unbalanced. And it is only these two types, the sentimental humanitarian and the sentimental brutalitarian, whom one hears in the modern babel. Yet you very rarely meet either of them on a train. You never meet anyone else in a controversy. The man you meet in a train is like this man that I met: he is emotionally decent, only he  is intellectually doubtful. So far from luxuriating in the loathsome things that could be “done” to criminals, he feels bitterly how much better it would be if nothing need be done. But something must be done. “ I s’pose  we ‘ave to do it.” In short, he is simply a sane man, and of a sane man there is only one safe definition. He is a man who can have tragedy in his heart and comedy in his head. 

Now the real difficulty of discussing decently this problem of the proper treatment of criminals is that both parties discuss the matter without any direct human feeling. The denouncers of wrong are as cold as the organisers of wrong. Humanitarianism is as hard as inhumanity.

Let me take one practical instance. I think the flogging arranged in our modern prisons is a filthy torture; all its scientific paraphernalia, the photographing, the medical attendance, prove that it goes to the last foul limit of the boot and rack. The cat is simply the rack without any of its intellectual reasons. Holding this view strongly, I open the ordinary humanitarian books or papers and I find a phrase like this, “the lash is a relic of barbarism”. So is the plough. So is the fishing net. So is the horn or the staff or the fire lit in winter. What an inexpressively feeble phrase for anything one wants to attack – a relic of barbarism! It is as if a man walked naked down the street tomorrow, and we said that his clothes were not quite in the latest fashion. There is nothing particularly nasty about being a relic of barbarism. Dancing is a relic of barbarism. Man is a relic of barbarism. Civilisation is a relic of barbarism.

But torture is not a relic of barbarism at all. In actuality it is simply a relic of sin; but in comparative history it may well be called a relic of civilisation. It has always been most artistic and elaborate when everything else was most artistic and elaborate. Thus it was detailed and exquisite in the late Roman Empire, in the complex and gorgeous sixteenth century, in the centralised French monarchy a hundred years before the Revolution, and in the great Chinese civilisation to this day. This is, first and last, the frightful thing we must remember. In so far as we grow instructed and refined, we are not (in any sense whatever) naturally moving away from torture. We may be moving towards torture. We must know what we are doing, if we are to avoid the enormous secret cruelty which has crowned every historic civilisation.

The train moves more swiftly through the sunny English fields. They have taken the prisoners away, and I do not know what they have done with them.


(‘Tremendous Trifles’- published 1909) 

It is interesting that Chesterton wrote this short story more than one hundred years ago. His prescience is startling when one considers the warning for our civilisation today, a civilisation which has progressed enormously in many fields, particularly technology and medicine, but in the process has become unbelievably cruel to its own kind. The legitimisation of abortion throughout the world, with millions of unborn babies denied their God-given right to life, and cruelly murdered in their mother’s womb, will surely rank as the most destructive cruelty, by far, of all ‘civilisations’.

May God forgive us, we must work and pray for an end to this evil.   

                                       “Lord have mercy on us”




                                                            The Dog

Grief for her absent master in her wrought,

So I in pity took her out with me,

Though I would fain have walked alone, to be

Less hindered in the current of my thought:

And then I threw her sticks for which she ran:-

Who would not cheer a sorrow when he can?

After some miles we met at twilight pale

A neighbour of her master’s passing by,

And, with blythe demonstration in her eye,

She turned and followed him along the vale.

So I walked on, companioned by the moon,

Well pleased that  even a casual form or feature

Of the old times was dearer to the creature

Than  the new friend of one bright afternoon. 

Rev. William Faber  D.D.  (Poems)

Friday, 18 September 2020

'History of the Protestant Reformation in England and Ireland' by William Cobbett (1763 - 1835)

This is from a post published several years ago on a related blog ‘whitesmokeahoy’, with some additions, and I think worthy of repeat. 

                                  William Cobbett  M.P.   (1763-1835)
 "Now, my friends, a fair and honest inquiry will teach us that this (“Reformation) was an alteration greatly for the worse; that the “Reformation, as it is called was engendered in lust, brought forth in hypocrisy and perfidy, and cherished and fed by plunder, devastation, and by rivers of innocent English and Irish blood; and that as to its more remote consequences, they are, some of them, now before us, in that misery, that beggary, that nakedness, that hunger, that everlasting wrangling and spite, which now stare us in the face, and stun our ears at every turn, and which the “Reformation” has given us in exchange for the ease, and happiness, and harmony, and Christian charity, enjoyed so abundantly and for so many ages by our Catholic fore-fathers.” William Cobbett (1824-7) 

    I strongly recommend an absorbing and highly informative book, ‘A History of the Protestant Reformation in England and Ireland’ written during the years 1824-7 by William Cobbett, and covering the period from the reign of Henry VIII (1509-1547) to George III(1760-1820). I expect that some readers are familiar with this book, which has been re- published by TAN publishers, but for those who aren’t and for those who wish to learn of the truth of these tragic and terrible events, I urge you to read it. 
    This account is quite different from the standard popular history books dealing with the causes and effects of the Reformation in England, for it is written, as it were, from the heart, and it is also written with objective truth in mind, rather than repeating the customary Protestant and Establishment version of events, which so often presents falsehoods as facts; monarchs, nobles, and churchmen supporting the ‘new’ religion, as righteous and honourable; and anybody or anything Catholic, as worthless, traitorous and contemptible. This book was written from a self-confessed, deep sense of outrage and injustice at the lies and deceits levelled at and perpetrated against the Catholic Church and its followers; the same Church that for hundreds of years prior to the Reformation, had been the one Christian Church of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, uniting all people, from royalty to peasantry, in the Catholic faith, with the King as temporal and the Pope as spiritual Head, with laws and tradition guiding and ordering daily life in a spirit of Christian charity, for the common good. What is particularly special about this book is that the author was a Protestant, well travelled and knowledgeable of the ways of the world, and fully acquainted with hardship, poverty, and the demands of duty in his capacity as a regimental soldier of some 8 years service.
    About the monasteries, the author states - “The piety, the austerities, and particularly the works of kindness and of charity performed by those living there, made them objects of great veneration; and the rich made them in time, the channels of their benevolence to the poor. Kings, queens, princes, princesses, nobles, and gentlemen founded monasteries; that is to say, erected the buildings and endowed them with estates for their maintenance. In time the monasteries became the owners of great landed estates, and they had a tenantry of prodigious extent especially in England where the monastic orders were always held in great esteem, in consequence of Christianity having been introduced into the kingdom by a community of monks.” 
    The author examines the circumstances leading up to the severance of the English church from Rome, with Henry VIII, angry at the Pope’s refusal to grant him a divorce, setting himself up as both spiritual and temporal head of the Church in England, thus incurring his excommunication. 

     When considering the events occurring immediately after Henry VIII broke with Rome, with regard to the monasteries, the author states that - “In England there was on average, more than twenty such monastic establishments in every county. Here was a prize for an unjust and cruel, tyrant gentry to share amongst them! Here was enough indeed, to make robbers on a grand scale, cry out against ‘monkish ignorance and superstition’! No wonder that the bowels of Cranmer, Knox, and all the rest, yearned so piteously as they did, when they cast their pious eyes on all the farms and manors, and on all the silver and gold ornaments, belonging to these communities! We shall see with what alacrity they ousted, plundered, and pulled down: we shall see them robbing, under the basest pretenses, even the altars of the country parish churches, down to the very smallest of those churches, and down to the value of five shillings.”        

    “Consider just briefly, the fate of the monasteries, of which there were at that time a total of 645, besides 90 colleges, 110 hospitals, and 2374 chantries and free chapels. All without exception, were seized by the King, who then granted them to those ‘loyal’ servants who aided and abetted him in his work of plunder. It must be remembered that these institutions comprised a great mass of landed property, which property was not by any means used for the sole benefit of monks, friars, and nuns, for the far greater part of its rents flowed immediately back amongst the people at large, benefiting the whole community”. 
    With the dissolution of the monasteries came real poverty for the ordinary people, with unemployment, hunger, disease, homelessness, lack of education, and the prohibition of their faith ; inevitably leading to the widespread destruction of social and family ties, and increased crime. For to whom could these people now turn in their distress.? The King’s friends had a vested interest in maintaining their royal ‘friendship’, for it was through this that they could attain wealth and position hitherto undreamed of. Unlike the monastic institutions, they had little or no duty of concern for those previously dependent on the monasteries, and for whom the dissolution of the monasteries had meant the loss of so much that was good and secure in their lives. 
    To those who falsely accused the monasteries of being havens for vice, greed, and idle living, Cobbett has this to say, “The monastic institutions flourished in England for 900 years; they were beloved by the people; they were destroyed by violence, by the plunderer’s grasp, and the murderer’s knife. Was there ever anything vicious in itself, or evil in its effects, held in veneration by a whole people for so long a time?” 
    This is quite a long book, some 400 or so pages, and it is quite impossible to recount here anything more than a few facts. To me it represents a reliable and trustworthy account of a spiritual and temporal disaster of huge and truly everlasting magnitude, with much scholarly reference to primary source material. It recognizes the Reformation as a base cause of the  French Revolution, when the powers of this world united with the powers of darkness to destroy the Catholic Church and all that it represents. We know with absolute certainty, that the Catholic Church will never be vanquished, for Christ Himself promised that He would always be with His Church, even to the end of the world. 
    Pope Benedict XVI, when addressing representatives of the world of culture at ‘College des Bernadins, Paris', talked at considerable length of the huge cultural debt that Western civilization owes to the mediaeval monastic institutions, particularly in the fields of education, economics, the sciences and the arts; originally intended, and designed and orientated towards greater knowledge and closer union with God. 
    A book I strongly recommend.


 "I have now performed my task. I have made good the position with which I began. Born and bred a Protestant of the Church of England, having a wife and numerous family professing the same faith, having the remains of most dearly beloved parents lying in a Protestant churchyard, and trusting to conjugal or filial piety to place mine by their side, I have in this undertaking no motive, but a sincere and disinterested love of truth and justice. It is not for the rich and powerful of my countrymen that I have spoken; but for the poor, the persecuted, the proscribed. I have not been unmindful of the unpopularity and the prejudice that would attend the enterprise; but when I considered the long, long triumph of calumny over the religion of those to whom we owe all that we possess that is great and renowned; when I was convinced that I could do much towards the counteracting of that calumny; when duty so sacred bade me speak, it would have been baseness to hold my tongue, and baseness superlative would it have been, if, having the will as well as the power, I had been restrained by fear of the shafts of falsehood and of folly. To be clear of self-reproach is amongst the greatest of human consolations; and now, amidst all the dreadful perils which the event that I have treated of, has at last surrounded my country, I can, while I pray God to save her from still further devastation and misery, safely say that neither expressly or tacitly am I guilty of any part of the cause of her ruin"  (William Cobbett - History of the Protestant Reformation)

" G.K.Chesterton says that the accuracy of William Cobbett's 'History of the Reformation' has never been challenged: only his challenge has been challenged! He turned popular history on its head, simply by looking at the facts, and called the players by their proper names, such as 'Bloody Bess' and 'Good Queen Mary'."
(Dale Ahlquist, President, American Chesterton Society.)


On a rather different matter, may I draw your attention to the following link, which is a petition to be presented to the Government concerning the possibility of allowing those who pay National Insurance contributions and who oppose abortion on ethical/moral grounds, to choose that their contribution to the NHS, not be used for abortion services, but for an alternative NHS service such as mental health. This sounds rather complicated, but with modern technology and good will, I believe this choice could and should be available.  Your support would be much appreciated. Just click on the link - thank you.

Sunday, 12 July 2020

' Pope John XXIII - Journal of a Soul' - November 1940

Pope John XXIII, born Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli in Bergamo, Italy, in November 1881. Ordained to the priesthood on August 10, 1904. Consecrated Bishop, March 1925, titular Archbishop of Areopolis. November 1934 transferred to the Apostolic Delegation to Turkey and Greece, and appointed Apostolic Administrator of the Apostolic Vicariate of Istanbul.

Mgr. Roncalli, far right, Papal Nuncio to Istanbul, with some of the clergy. (c. late 1930s early 1940s)

The following notes were recorded by Mgr Roncalli who was on Retreat between 25 November - 1 December 1940, at Terapia on the Bosporus, at the Villa of the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion.

Monday evening, 25 November, 1940.

Yesterday our Holy Father Pius XII invited the whole world to join him in the sorrowful singing of the Litany of the Saints and the penitential psalms, the Miserere.
                We all from the West and from the East, joined with him in his petition.
                In my solitary retreat I am making the Spiritual Exercises, as the Holy Father himself is doing just now in the Vatican, and in this way I begin the sixtieth year of my humble life. For myself and for the good of all, I think I cannot do better than return to the penitential psalm (Psalm 50/51) dividing the twenty verses into four for each day and making them the subject of religious meditation.
                As a starting point I am using Father Segneri’s exposition of the Miserere, but with considerable freedom of inspiration and applications.
                To understand the profound meaning of the Psalm, I find it a great help to bear in mind the figure of the royal prophet himself and the circumstances of his repentance and grief.  It is a king who has fallen; it is a king who rises again.

First day, Tuesday, 26 November.

VERSE 1:  ‘Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy great mercy.’
1..      The mourning of the nations This cry reaches my ears from every part of Europe and beyond.  The murderous war which is being waged on the ground, on the seas and in the air, is truly a vindication of divine justice because the sacred laws governing human society have been have been transgressed and violated.  It has been asserted, and is still being asserted, that God is bound to preserve this or that country, or grant it invulnerability and final victory, because of the righteous people who live there or because of the good that they do.  We forget that although in a certain sense God has made the nations, he has left the constitution of states to the free decisions of men.  To all He has made clear the rules which govern human society; they are all to be found in the Gospel. But He has not given any guarantee of special and privileged assistance, except to the race of believers, that is, to Holy Church as such. And even His assistance to His Church, although it preserves her from final defeat, does not guarantee her immunity from trials and persecutions.
         The law of life, alike for the souls of men and for nations, lays down principles of justice and universal harmony and the limits to be set to the use of wealth, enjoyments and worldly power.  When this law is violated, terrible and merciless sanctions come automatically into action. No state can escape. To each its hour. War is one of the most tremendous sanctions. It is willed not by God but by men, nations and states, through their representatives.  Earthquakes, floods, famines, and pestilences are applications of the blind laws of nature, blind because nature herself has neither intelligence nor freedom. War instead is desired by men, deliberately, in defiance of the most sacred laws. That is what makes it so evil. He who instigates war and foments it is always the ‘Prince of this world’, who has nothing to do with Christ, the ‘Prince of peace’.
And while the war rages, the people can only turn to the Miserere and beg for the Lord’s mercy, that it may outweigh his justice and with a great outpouring of grace bring the powerful men of this world to their senses and persuade them to make peace.
2.       The mourning of my own soul.  What is happening in the world on a grand scale is reproduced on a small scale in every man’s soul, is reproduced in mine.  Only the grace of God has prevented me being eaten up with malice. There are certain sins which may be called typical; this sin of David’s, the sins of St Peter and St Augustine. But what might I not have done myself, if the Lord's hand had not held me back? For small failings the most perfect saints underwent long and harsh penances. So many, even in our own times, have lived only to make atonement; and there are souls whose lives, even today, are one long expiation of their own sins, of the sins of the world. And I, in all ages of my life more or less a sinner, should I not spend my time mourning? Cardinal Federico’s famous reply is still so eloquent and moving: ‘I did not ask for praises, which make me tremble: what I know of myself is enough to confound me.’
          Far from seeking consolation by comparing myself with others, I should make the Miserere for my own sins my most familiar prayer.  The thought that I am a priest and Bishop and therefore especially dedicated to the conversion of sinners and the remission of sins should add all the more anguish to my feelings of grief, sadness and tears, as St Ignatius says.  What is the meaning of all these flagellations, or having oneself set on the bare ground, or on ashes, to die, if not the priestly soul’s continual plea for mercy, and his constant longing to be a sacrificial victim for his own sins and the sins of the world?
3.       The great mercy.  It is not just ordinary mercy that is needed here. The burden of social and personal wickedness is so grave that an ordinary gesture of love does not suffice for forgiveness. So we invoke the great mercy. This is proportionate to the greatness of God.
4.     ‘For according to His greatness, so also is His mercy’(Eccles. 2:23) It is well said that our sins are the seat of divine mercy. It is even better said that God’s most beautiful name and title is this: mercy. This must inspire us with a great hope amidst our tears. ‘Yet mercy triumphs over judgement.’(James 2:13) This seems too much to hope for. But it cannot be too much if the whole mystery of the Redemption hinges on this: the exercise of mercy is to be a portent of predestination and of salvation, ‘Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy great mercy.’

VERSE II:  ‘And according to the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my iniquity. 

                                The Lord is said to be 'merciful and gracious’.  His mercy is not simply a feeling of the heart; it is an abundance of gifts.
                                When we consider how many graces are poured into the sinner’s soul along with God’s forgiveness, we feel ashamed. These are: the loving remission of our offence; the new infusion of sanctifying grace, given as to a friend, as to a son: the reintegration of the gifts, habits and virtues associated with the grace; the restitution of our right to heaven; the restoration of the merits we had earned before our sin; the increase of grace which this forgiveness adds to former graces; the increase of gifts which grow in proportion to the growth of grace just as the rays of the sun increase as it rises, and the rivulets are wider as the fountain overflows.

VERSE III: Wash me yet more from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin’:  holy confession.
                                Three verbs: to blot out, to wash and to cleanse, in this order.  First the iniquity must be blotted out, then well washed, that is, every slightest attachment to it is removed; finally the cleansing, which means conceiving an implacable hatred for sin and doing things which are contrary to it, that is making acts of humility, meekness, mortification, etc., according to the diversity of the sins These three operations follow one another but to God alone belongs the first. To God, in cooperation with the soul, the second and the third: the washing and the cleansing. Let us, poor sinners, do our duty: repent, and with the Lord’s help, wash and cleanse ourselves. We are sure that the Lord will do the first, the blotting out; this is prompt and immediate. And so we must believe it to be, without doubts or hesitations. ‘I believe in the forgiveness of sins.’ The two processes which depend on our cooperation need time, progress, effort. Therefore we say: ‘Wash me yet more ……. And cleanse me.’
                This mysterious process of our purification is perfectly accomplished in holy confession, through the intervention of the blood of Christ which washes and cleanses us. The power of the divine blood, applied to the soul, acts progressively, from one confession to another. ‘Yet  more’ and ever more. Hence the importance of confession in itself, with the words of absolution, and of the custom of frequent confession for persons of a spiritual profession, such as priests and Bishops. How easy it is for mere routine to take the place of true devotion in our weekly confessions! Here is a good way of drawing the best out of this precious and divine exercise:  to think of Christ, who, according to St Paul, was created by God to be ‘our wisdom, our righteousness, sanctification  and redemption’ (1 Cor. 1:30)
                So, when I confess, I must beg Jesus first of all to be my wisdom, helping me to make a calm, precise, detailed examination of my sins and of their gravity, so that I may feel sincere sorrow for them. Then, that he may be my justice, so that I may present myself to my confessor as to my judge and accuse myself sincerely and sorrowfully. May he be also my perfect sanctification when I bow my head  to receive absolution from the hand of the priest, by whose gesture is restored or increased  sanctifying  grace. Finally, that he may be my redemption as I perform that meagre penance which is set me instead of the great penalty I deserve: a meagre penance indeed, but a rich atonement because it is united with the sacrament to the blood of Christ, which intercedes and atones and washes and cleanses, for me and with me.
                This ‘wash me yet more’ must remain the sacred motto of my ordinary confessions.  These confessions are the surest criteria by which to judge my spiritual progress.

VERSE IV: ‘For I know my iniquity and my sin is ever before me.’
                The advice of the ancient philosopher: ‘know thyself’, was already a good foundation for an honest and worthy life. It served for the ordinary exercise of humility, which is the prime virtue of great men. For the Christian, for the ecclesiastic, the thought of being a sinner, does not by any means signify that we must lose heart, but it must mean confident and habitual trust in the Lord Jesus who has redeemed and forgiven us; it means a keen sense of respect for our fellow men and for all men’s souls and a safeguard against the danger of becoming proud of our achievements. If we stay in the cell of the penitent sinner, deep in our heart, it will be not only a refuge for the soul which has found its own true self, and with its true self calm in decision and action, but also a fire by which zeal for the souls of men is kept more brightly lit, with pure intentions and a mind free from pre-occupations about success, which is extraneous to our apostolate.
                David needed the shock of the prophet’s voice saying: ‘You are the man.’ But afterwards his sin is always there, always before his eyes, an ever-present warning: ‘My sin is always before me.’
                Father Segneri wisely points out that it is not necessary to remember the exact form of every single sin, which would be neither profitable nor edifying, but it is well to bear in mind the memory of past failings as a warning, as an incitement to holy fear and zeal for souls.  How often the thought of sins and sinners recurs in the liturgy! This is even more true of the Eastern than of the Latin liturgy: but it is well expressed in both: ‘My sin is always before me’, just as the sins of men were before Jesus in his agony in the garden of Gethsemane, as they were before Peter at the height of his authority as Supreme Pontiff;  before Paul in the glory of his apostolate, and before Augustine in the splendour of his great learning and episcopal sanctity.
                I pity those unhappy men who, instead of keeping their sin before them, hide it behind their backs! They will never be free from past or future sins.             (to be continued)

Ack.   ‘Pope John XXIII  -  Journal of a Soul’ – translated by Dorothy White.  Published by Four Square Books, New English Library, 1966.