13 December 2009

Some of our speakers for next term ...

Charles Moore
Mr. Moore is a journalist who writes for the Spectator and was Editor of The Daily Telegraph from 1995 to 2003. He will speak on his experience of being a Catholic journalist and political commentator.

Clare Asquith
Viscountess Asquith is an independent scholar and author of Shadowplay: The Hidden Beliefs and Coded Politics of William Shakespeare. She has addressed the society before and returns to speak about the Catholic background of Shakespeare’s Titus Adronicus.

Dom Anthony Sutch OSB
Fr. Sutch was formerly Headmaster of Downside and new serves as a Parish Priest in Suffolk. He will speak of Catholic education today, particularly in view of his experience as former Headmaster of Downside.

Further details will be announced shortly.

3 December 2009

The Tablet reports on Bishop Arnold at the Newman Society

A respected canon lawyer said this week that Catholic bishops cannot sit in the House of Lords, writes Christopher Lamb.

Bishop John Arnold, an auxiliary in Westminster, said that canon law forbids an ordained person from taking up a position in the legislature.

His comments suggest that Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor would not be able to take a seat in the House of Lords. Earlier this year the Prime Minister suggested that the cardinal might be given a peerage.

“Jonathan Sacks [Chief Rabbi] is there but Catholics won’t be there because there is a canon in the code of canon law that says ordained clerics should not take part in any legislative forum in Government,” Bishop Arnold told a debate on religion in public life arranged by the Oxford University Newman Society.

Canon 285 states “clerics are forbidden to assume public offices which entail a participation in the exercise of civil power.” Other canon lawyers argued that the cardinal could exempt himself from parts of canon law, as long as he kept the Holy See informed. Bishop Arnold also said he was ambivalent about the position of Church of England bishops in the House of Lords.

“I’m really quite open to the question as to whether bishops in the Church of England should be in the House of Lords or not,” he said. “At the moment on the balance of things they do a reasonable job and they are their own men in terms of the opinions they hold.”

The bishop was debating opposite Dr Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrat MP about the role of religion in public life. Dr Harris, who this year was awarded the title “Secularist of the year” by the National Secular Society, recently put forward amendments in the House of Commons to repeal the Act of Settlement, which forbids the monarch from marrying a Catholic. Bishop Arnold said that while he thought the law was “anachronistic” and should be changed, he “wasn’t going to lose sleep over it”. Dr Harris and Bishop Arnold agreed that people should not talk about Britain as a Christian country. “We shouldn’t talk about Christian Britain but Christianity in Britain,” the bishop said.
Click for a summary of the report in The Tablet
and here for commetary made in Damian Thompson's Telegraph blog.

2 December 2009

Bishop John Arnold and Evan Harris MP debate Christianity and the constitution

The third in the Newman Society’s current series of Thomas More Lectures on ‘religion in the public square’ took place on Monday. Bishop John Arnold and Evan Harris MP debated ‘the role of religion in the British constitution’.

Dr. Evan Harris MP is an Oxford graduate and practices as a Medical Doctor.  He also sits as Member of Parliament for Oxford West and Abingdon. He was recently given the ‘Secularist of the Year’ award in recognition of his role in the abolition of the common law offence of Blasphemous Libel.

Bishop John Arnold, another Oxford graduate, practiced as a barrister before training for the Catholic priesthood. He now serves as an Auxiliary Bishop in the Diocese of Westminster.

A train power failure at Didcot meant that Dr. Harris was delayed by over an hour. Substantial quantities of tea and coffee mollified the more than patient crowd until he arrived in a taxi.

Each speaker began with a ten minute presentation. In his opening remarks Bishop Arnold noted that The Tablet had billed the event as a bust up between the Church and secularism. He told the audience that he did not think that such an approach would be useful and said that he preferred to see the debate as an opportunity to have a constructive conversation: ‘There is always something to be learned by both sides. Dr. Harris and I are both here to try to evaluate an enormous subject and, hopefully, to discover some common ground.’ The Bishop continued his opening remarks by making the case for Christianity’s positive contribution to society.

Dr. Harris responded by saying he broadly agreed with the Bishop Arnold that the Christian churches made a valuable contribution to society; however, he believed that a constitutional bias towards Christianity was discriminatory and counterproductive to achieving social cohesion.

Following the opening submissions a civilized exchange took place addressing four key questions: Is Christian Britain dead? Is there a place for Bishops in the House of Lords? Can Christianity hold a privileged place in a pluralistic society? and Is Britain doing better with secularism?

After questions from the floor each speaker concluded with a short summation of what had been said. The speakers were thanked by Francis Davies, Director of the Las Casas Institute, who had moderated the discussion with great poise.

The occasion built on the two previous Thomas More Lectures examining the role of religion in the public forum, which were given by Cardinal George Pell and Francis Campbell earlier in the year. Next year the Thomas More Lectures will focus on the theme of ‘religion and science’.

The Tablet will be carrying a report of the lecture in its forthcoming edition. It is hoped that we will be able to post some more photographs shortly.

1 December 2009


The drinks party this evening provided a good opportunity to relax after the business of yesterday's Thomas More Lecture. Reviving the tradition of students giving papers, Yaqoob Bangash gave a short talk on 'Christianity in India' which was followed by questions. It being the feast day of the Blessed Martyrs of Oxford University, Fr. John Moffatt then treated us to a rendition of 'Campion's Brag', in which the martyr St. Edmund Campion called the bluff of the Privy Council (click here for the full text). Here are just two of the nine articles from the 'brag':
v. I do ask, to the glory of God, with all humility, and under your correction, three sorts of indifferent and quiet audiences: the first, before your Honours, wherein I will discourse of religion, so far as it toucheth the common weal and your nobilities: the second, whereof I make more account, before the Doctors and Masters and chosen men of both universities, wherein I undertake to avow the faith of our Catholic Church by proofs innumerable—Scriptures, councils, Fathers, history, natural and moral reasons: the third, before the lawyers, spiritual and temporal, wherein I will justify the said faith by the common wisdom of the laws standing yet in force and practice.

vi. I would be loath to speak anything that might sound of any insolent brag or challenge, especially being now as a dead man to this world and willing to put my head under every man's foot, and to kiss the ground they tread upon. Yet I have such courage in avouching the majesty of Jesus my King, and such affiance in his gracious favour, and such assurance in my quarrel, and my evidence so impregnable, and because I know perfectly that no one Protestant, nor all the Protestants living, nor any sect of our adversaries (howsoever they face men down in pulpits, and overrule us in their kingdom of grammarians and unlearned ears) can maintain their doctrine in disputation. I am to sue most humbly and instantly for combat with all and every of them, and the most principal that may be found: protesting that in this trial the better furnished they come, the better welcome they shall be.