Francis in the New Year

Now that we are safely in December the time has come to start thinking about New Year’s resolutions for 2020 and we should be considering what they might be. But I am not asking you to do that here – I am going to ask you what you think Pope Francis’ resolutions should be. Some of them could be completed within the year but others might be started in the year but will take longer to complete.

We are aware that at the senior levels of the Church there is a strong tension about Francis’ whole approach. He appears to be altogether too flexible — particularly on moral matters. His focus does not appear to be altogether based on the long, impermeable, tradition of the Church’s teaching on moral matters. For instance, he stands back from condemning homosexuals, and he actually suggests the possibility of allowing adultery in second marriages.

Another area of importance is the rôle of women in the Church. There is the question of women deacons. What would be their rôle? Would they have the same activities and powers as male deacons or be restricted to those best suited to the ‘second’ sex? And, despite, recent, firm contrary teaching, does he sometimes wonder about the possibility of women priests? (I do)

He may well feel that the relationships within the Church do not conform with St Paul’s description of the Mystical Body (1 Corinthians 12). Is the sharing of the Spirit between all of us fully shown in the relationships between authority and the laity? Might the Church learn from successful secular organisations the importance of every member contributing to the task? What could he do about this?

That’s just a sample which spring into my mind. You may disagree. You may have better ideas. This is a Blog which enjoys disagreement.

Among the large number of comments to this item there are some serious accusations concerning Pope Francis, with inadeqate evidence to support them. I would emphasise that such comments do not reflect the views of Secondsight Blog. They are the responsibity of the contributor.   




Posted in Catholic Voices, Church and Society, Quentin queries | Tagged | 101 Comments

A threat to our planet

Last Monday I watched a program on BBC1: “Meat: a threat to our planet?” It interested me because my millennial grandchildren are somewhat critical of my positive approach to meat. Indeed, at table I am often the only person eating it.
So I thought this program would give me a broader picture. I might even demonstrate my, temporary, breadth of knowledge. And I would impress the young.

Liz Bonnin, who leads the program, presented herself as someone who had a general belief in the dangers of climate warming, but who wanted to nail down the facts.
She started in Texas – where she found the huge industry required to satisfy the American determination to eat meat: it was gross and almost deliberately wasteful. The outcome was a huge contribution to climate change. The work being currently done to provide non-meat food but which tastes like meat would not have impressed them. The global livestock industry around the world is the source responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the running of all the world’s transport combined. It’s polluting air, land, and water.

Of course although we may argue about the details and the consequences of different factors which lead towards climate change (think of 50,000 Texan cows belching out methane or huge quantities of polluting manure from pig farms), and then add to that the great number of factors which contribute to the threat to many aspects of our lives.

But then, just as I pause writing this post and glance at the Daily Telegraph (28 November), I notice a story headed “Meat free world would devastate the environment, say scientists” Among other points, it refers to the needs of children who apparently require the benefits of meat for their cognitive and physical development. So nothing, of course, is simple.

In fact, I have reduced my meat eating in recent months – but it is still part of my diet. I can of course sit pretty – after all I will have snuffed it long before the worst has arrived. But last week I had a visit from a three years old great granddaughter. Apart from the fact that her beauty makes my eyes water, she showed a surprising temperament: she thought, she decided, and then she went into action. She is the future – but what sort of future will we leave her?

Posted in Bio-ethics, Climate Change, Quentin queries | 77 Comments

The evil of abortion

This week I want to consider an unsavoury subject: there has been much public discussion about the legalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland. It has frequently been extolled as an extension of human rights. And the converse is that those who disapprove are the enemies of human rights. And I am confused.

For some time, in my writing elsewhere, I have given up the technical terms of embryo or foetus because in lay discussion such terms carry their own overtones. I stick with the simple words by describing the entity in question as an “individual human being”. That is a definition no one can deny: “Individual” because it describes the continuation of identity from conception to death. “Human” because that is its species. “Being” because it exists and is alive. It is strange to me that we can increase the rights of one set of individual human beings by removing the rights of another set. But it wouldn’t be the first time – look, for instance, how the Nazis ratified their treatment of the Jews.

Nor, indeed, can we safely discuss the topic. I run a fortnightly meeting with a group of philosophers. And I have learnt that I must prohibit abortion as a topic because we never agree, and people become upset. However, I leave no doubts about my own view.

On this site you can respond – in any form you wish to express. If so, you might care to visit It is a brief notation by BBC News of recent law on abortion.


Posted in Moral judgment | Tagged | 66 Comments

Times — they are achanging

I seem to have had a quiet life. Yes, it began with deciding the proximity of the next Nazi bomb through the tune of its whistle or seeing how many doodlebugs I could count in a day. Then 10 years of a Jesuit education, a long marriage, a 40-year career, and some 23 descendants. 

But as I pick up my newspaper each morning I get a renewed sense that the world is changing at a tremendous pace. I can’t give you a list of possible changes because that would take up the whole of this magazine. So I just mention a few which stick in my mind.

Government has changed. In the old days in Britain we switched between Labour and Conservative. But the differences were not great. So Labour would pull things a little to the left and the Conservatives to the right. Now – and I’m not going to use the B word – our democracy seems to have crash-landed. 

It would appear that it only works effectively if we all have roughly similar principles, including the tolerance of those who disagree. Can we rescue it or are we going to end up like the tinpot republics running around to catch their tails?
Of course, the internet, and the multiplicity of computers, have been a huge factor – followed by the smartphone. 

The benefits are substantial, but we have reached a stage where it is assumed that everyone is similarly equipped. My bank was quite put out to discover that I use no mobile phone. This is apparently needed to avoid scams. And that in itself relates to change: for most of my life I have never faced real crime. (Except for one serious threat of assassination some years ago. This came to me in a detailed email sufficiently plausible for me to call in the police. I never discovered the author or the reason.) Nowadays I deal with several attempts each month by criminals who try to swindle me.

Of course I am a sinner: I had five children, and nowadays that would be regarded as an irresponsible contribution to global warming. Indeed, poor British families receiving Universal Credit can only claim benefit for two children. This limit came into force for children born since April 2017. Clearly, having a third child is now a sin against the state, if not yet actually illegal. However, the average number of births per woman required to replace the UK population is 2.1. It now stands at 1.7 – down from 1.76 in 2017. Meanwhile, the longevity of the old continues to increase.
This failure of replacement has already had damaging effects, both social and financial, in Japan – and in due course it will hit us too.

Once upon a time I lived in a country which regarded abortion as a crime. Its fans today argue their case is a matter of “human rights”. And it is indeed a matter of human rights: the most obvious precedent for removing the human rights for an identifiable group of individual human beings was the Nazi government; presumably they were protecting the “human right” not to have Jews in the population.
LGBT? There have always been some people whose gender has not been fully clear. Such people were in the greatest need of sympathetic support. Ranges of characteristics were used to establish which gender was most appropriate. Now it has become a matter of choice. This would be simply comical, if there were not distressed people who are genuinely anxious about their ambivalent condition. 

Decades ago, when I ran courses for engaged couples, we were looking at the menopause. When we asked the couples if they knew of anyone suffering from this, the only hand that went up was that of our chaplain. It turned out to be his housekeeper. This, in fact, is a serious condition, so congratulations for those who have an answer to it. It is, I read, to take and store ovarian tissue from young women. When they hit the menopause these tissues can be reinserted, and (bingo!) end of menopause.

The newspapers are delighted: this would be a fundamental benefit in the lives of women – who anyhow suffer quite enough to bring us into the world. 
Unfortunately, Melanie Davis, a consultant gynaecologist, tells us that, despite the newspapers’ excitement, this is a complex matter, involving a number of issues, making it unlikely that this will become an effective solution.

But, today, my major concern is not the political decisions which we may hope will be made over the next few weeks. It is my fear that our former balanced democracy will be replaced by political squabbles rather than a stable democracy genuinely focussed on the benefits of the people.

Posted in Uncategorized | 29 Comments


It is possible that I will need to address a Catholic audience. My topic will require me to look at a methodology for marriage counselling. I will argue that this, suitably modified, is valuable in all our relationships. I write this to you so that I may have the benefit of your ideas — whether you approve or disapprove.

Many years ago, when I first became a counsellor, the methodology was Freudian. That is that we were looking out the deeper characteristics of the client which, unconsciously, affected their attitudes. This was splendid fun, but it had one negative aspect: it didn’t work. Nowadays, this is generally accepted by the experts.

I call the methodology LEGUP. That of course is simply a mnemonic: Listen, Explore, Goals, Underpinning, Pursuit. As I provide a little more detail, you will see that it also applies to a wide range of people – from the parish priest to a grandparent helping a grandchild.

LISTENING. Most of us are poor listeners. We immediately come back with our “helpful” reply. Before long it has become a game of tennis: he serves the ball, you shoot it back – and on it goes. The good listener reflects no more than what he has heard: both the feelings and the facts. For example “You’re feeling upset because your boss disapproved of your work.” Knowing that you are listening, the supplicant may then refine his message, or provide more information. Proper listening can go on for quite a long time – you may be the only person who has ever really listened to him. “You feel x because of y” is a useful phrase for a listener.

EXPLORING. Here we take what we have heard and help the speaker to discover more about the problem. This is not done by providing our solution – your job is to help the speaker to dig further down and begin to understand what is happening. You might ask the speaker to explore their patterns of behaviour, or to look at contradictions in the story, and so on. Eventually you both understand the problem, and the feelings that go with it.

So we move on to G for GOALS. Broad intentions to resolve a problem are rarely effective. A vague wish (say, “I am going to be kinder to my spouse.”) is likely to get nowhere. Instead, think of definite goals which lead up towards what is required. And goals have their own mnemonic: CROW. That stands for Concrete, Realistic, Observable, Worthwhile. So one goal might be “I am going to spend ten minutes with my wife when I come home from work, and tell her about my day.” There may be several further goals which will be required. But start with the easier ones. That will give you confidence.

Sometimes, your client may need UNDERPINNING — that is actions that may be required in order achieve the goals. This could vary between seeing a doctor or a priest — or taking a course in a specific skill. In marriage counseling, learning how to listen, as described above, is very often needed. I have spent many hours teaching married couples how to do this. Once this is being properly used many other issues simply disappear.

PURSUIT is important. These are return visits where the client is reporting on their goals. Knowing that they will be reporting on their successes, or otherwise, is strong motivation. It is also an occasion for deciding on the next objectives — which may be required.

Some people are wary of a formal approach in human relationships. But LEGUP is not formulaic. It is merely reminding us of the stages which are needed to help people to help themselves. How successful did I find it? That’s a difficult one. I like to think that it enabled me to at least help couples to develop their relationship in effective ways.

Posted in Bio-ethics, Neuroscience, Quentin queries | Tagged , | 14 Comments

Is God Just?

Crime and punishment – no not Dostoevsky, just Quentin – who wants to know the answer. And I am asking about God’s decisions.

Straightforward Catholic teaching tells us that if we commit a mortal sin, and die before we have repented, we go straight to Hell. And there we stay forever. It will not be a pleasant stay: as Scripture describes it, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Over the years, the Catholic Church has identified several different types of mortal sin. The range is wide: murder, stealing (above a certain level), missing Mass on a Sunday without good reason, and so on. Sexual sin has its own little section: even to enjoy mental pleasure at the thought of forbidden sexuality is included. It may be that no one (other than me) who reads this blog has ever committed mortal sin, according to the Church’s judgment. But if anyone has, he or she might have been run over by a bus on their way to the confessional.

It is not surprising that committing a sin has a particular importance. For example, stealing may well be damaging to a friend but, bad enough as it may be, that is nothing compared to offending almighty God. Thus, when Cardinal Newman discusses even venial sin he says: ”The Catholic Church holds it better for the sun and moon to drop from heaven, for the earth to fail, and for all the many millions on it to die of starvation in extremest agony, as far as temporal affliction goes, than that one soul, I will not say, should be lost, but should commit one single venial sin, should tell one wilful untruth, or should steal one poor farthing without excuse.”

Here, of course, the measure of a sin is described not in terms of the act but in the fact that it is committed towards God. I hesitate to argue against Newman. But certain questions enter my mind. If we look at our civil law we know that certain activities are forbidden. And rightly we are called to justice. If we are found to be guilty, we are punished. The range of punishment is broad – going perhaps from a fine to life imprisonment – although even the latter is rarely, in practice, for life.

However, mortal sinfulness is, we are told again and again, involves punishment for ever. Were we, for example, in the agony Hell for millions of years we would still have not even started: billions of years of further punishment await. And it has all been brought about, perhaps, because we failed to attend Mass on a Sunday.

You see, I am looking at justice. Should our punishment be based on our intention or should it be based on the greatness of God? As far as my judgment goes, I have to say that I prefer human justice rather than what we are told about divine justice.
Or not – as you may tell me

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The Almighty’s Good Idea

One of the Almighty’s better ideas is evolution. The system he has set up makes continuously towards improvement. Given that living creatures can pass on their characteristics through breeding, this is the inevitable outcome. The good characteristics enable creatures to survive and breed, the bad characteristics lead to an early death and less breeding.

From the crudest and most simple living creatures, evolution eventually developed human beings who are not only physically strong and adaptable, but they also have huge brains. Much of the work of the brain is automatic: the human being operates mainly without being aware of this. And there is a further element of the brain: human beings are conscious of themselves and they can make choices. Fortunately, they do not realise that many of the choices they make are in fact automatic, because they don’t appear to be so. Even the experts in the field admit that they cannot explain consciousness and freedom of the will. They call it the ‘hard problem’.

Here is one interesting example. The earliest human beings lived in very hot areas where it was advantageous to have black skin. So that developed. But later, human beings began to colonise the cooler parts of the world. For this, a lighter, even pink, skin was advantageous. So, evolution did its work. And now I notice something very odd: it seems that light skinned people tend to despise black skinned people. Why is this? They should be revering their aristocratic forebears, but they fail to do so.

Let’s look at another aspect: the process of human breeding. I start with women. What characteristics are required by the female of the species? The female has to carry her offspring for most of a year, and then must support the offspring until they are able to care for themselves.

It follows that they will be drawn towards males who appear to be powerful, competent and reliable. They must be healthy in their appearance. And they must have financial resources. It is only such males who are likely to defend and provide for the mother over the several years of childcare. We might think that in the present time some of these characteristics may be in practice less important – but we have to remember that these tendencies in women are inherited from their long-term foremothers. Changed conditions do not change the instincts.

What is required of the male? Certainly, he will look out for the attractive female in good health – she is likely to be competent to bear and to care for the young. So, symmetry, which indicates health, and breasts which indicate milk will be factors. So will the ratio between waist and pelvis. But behind all that, is the need for the male to spread his seed as widely as possible. Unlike the female. who may pay a heavy price, it is at no cost to him. But there is good evidence that women, perhaps unconsciously, supercharge their attractiveness at the time of ovulation. For example, pole dancers in night clubs receive larger ‘tips’ when they are ovulating.

So we are reminded that the pickiness of the female is built into them through their evolved nature. Similarly, the unwanted male approach is triggered by the same means. We are sometimes given to criticise the opposite sex in this regard. But is that fair when the habits have come from how evolution works? Without it, there would be no human race at all.

Posted in Bio-ethics, Moral judgment, Quentin queries | 35 Comments