Sunday, 16 October 2011

Did Archbishop Nichols really write this letter?

Archdiocese of Westminster,
motto: "Could do better"

This passed me by at the time, Archbishop Vincent Nichols letter to secondary school students sent out on 5th September in both video and text format by Westminster's Director of Education, Paul Barber.

One might even suspect that the good Archbishop never ever wrote it and that it was written by a person of the Diocesan Education Department.

Because it is, in my view, a pretty dire piece of English purportedly expressing a Catholic message that is so wrapped up in gobbledeygook it might just as well have been a Tablet editorial.

It takes 12 paragraphs of gut wrenching copy before religion or God enters the picture at all. It is badly written and it does nothing to inspire or show the dynamism of the faith.
It talks inanely about self respect; it patronises and it condescends.
It is so bad that I am beginning to feel that it is me that has got it all wrong. My Catholic education (admittedly light years ago) majored on self humility, not self respect and I knew the basic principles of right and wrong when I was four years old.

If I was (let us wildly imagine) a 15 year old student that managed to read the Archbishop's message through to its conclusion (no mean feat by itself) I would feel less than enamoured of a faith that spoke to me in such terms; in fact, I would seriously consider that I might be on the wrong train!

Here is the letter.....I have commented sparingly in red, one could comment on almost every word.
 Note that it is addressed to 'Secondary School Children' not a good start.........

The Most Rev Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster’s message to Secondary School Children in (am I being picky or should there be a 'the' here?) Diocese of Westminster

5 September 2011

Today I want to speak to you, to each student in our secondary schools, as you begin this new school year.

I hope you have had a good summer. Some of you may have been on a family holiday. Some of you will have got your exam results. Some of you may have had a difficult time. It’s not always easy being a teenager, (ermm, secondary education begins at the age of 11) knowing what to do or who to follow. All of you will have known about the riots in our capital city. (Yes, your Grace, but what about them?)
Now you come back to the patterns of school and college life with the demands they make and the opportunities they carry.

Here you learn again about being part of a community that is far wider than your family. Central to what you learn is the need to show respect for each other and have some responsibility for each other if you are going to make the best of the opportunities given to you here.

These lessons of mutual respect and responsibility went out of the window for those few days of rioting and looting. I know that many of you were upset at what you saw.

Since then much has been said about young people today. But I am confident that you do understand the issues involved: that we owe respect to others in every circumstance; that theft is wrong; that we are easily tempted in the spur of a moment; that the actions we take always have  their consequences.(If I was a secondary school student I might suspect the Archbishop of painting me as part of the riot mob).

But it is a deeper truth that I want to stress, one that underlines all these other points. It is this: the respect we have for each other is rooted in the respect we have for ourselves. Your respect for yourself is so important. Self-respect is what helps to set the standards by which you live.

That might sound simple. But profound and true self-respect is difficult to achieve. So many influences can sway you this way and that making you feel confused about who you really are and what you really want.

Self-respect is something you grow into gradually, as you come to accept and appreciate the abilities and character you have been given. You learn of it through those who love you. You can lose sight of it when you feel dejected or misunderstood.

When you truly respect yourself then you set yourself high standards of behaviour especially in the company of your own age group. You are not afraid to be different. When you truly respect yourself you also have high achievement targets. You want to do your best and be your best.

As you get older, you come to understand for yourself the differences between right and wrong. You learn how to be generous with what is right and how to say ‘no’ to what is wrong. Gradually you seek and find true and lasting values, not just those promoted by fashion or celebrity.(celebrity what?) Gradually you acquire the habits and routines of good behaviour, so that you know how to behave even when no-one is watching.(I can't believe this twaddle - it is aimed at those in the age bracket 13 to 19 is it not?)

But what is the deepest foundation of this self-respect?

When you look at yourself in a mirror who do you really see? A child of your parents, certainly. A person liked by their friends. And a face anxious about its appearance. (You can't be...acne your Grace?) But you see someone more.(More?, should that be 'else'?)

What you see is someone expressed in this truth, on which you can rely: ‘Before you were born God called you. From your mother’s womb God pronounced your name.’ (Jer.49.1)

There it is. You are a child of God. That is who you see each morning in the mirror. It is God’s life that is within you, the supreme gift that you have received. When you understand this, everything changes. This is why you have such respect for yourself, in every aspect of your being, and in your future. This is also why you have respect for your family and for every other human being for they too have the same dignity as you, as sons and daughters of one heavenly Father. We share one life together.

This truth lies at the heart of the life of your school community. I trust that in this coming year you will continue to learn more about the greatness of human living and achievement, about your faith in God made visible in Jesus Christ who is your friend and companion, about your own abilities and true potential. I hope that as you grow and learn you will see the importance of giving good leadership to others around you and the importance of contributing to your local community to build a just and compassionate society. What you give, the service you offer, helps others around you, but it really helps you to grow in self-respect as well.

Thank you for listening to me. I ask that you take a copy of this message home to your parents and talk about it with them, too.

One last thought. All your actions are carried out in the presence of God. You can be sure that God never lets you out of sight because God loves you so much that He can never take His eyes off you. God wants to watch as you prosper and truly flourish. You are loved so much. Please remember this in the term ahead.

God bless you all.
Archbishop Vincent Nichols
2 September 2011

So what makes me think that some other person may be the author of this missive? (Apart from the poor grammar and misplaced content).

 Well  this is how it was presented on one school's website (and it was not the Cardinal Vaughan School)

Paul Barber, Director for Education at the Diocese of Westminster, has informed us of a message from Archbishop Vincent Nicholls (sic) that the Archbishop would like all secondary students aware of as soon as is reasonable.
Paul Barber writes,
"As you will have read ... Archbishop Vincent has recorded a video message addressing all students in our secondary schools. He has requested that this should be shown to all students at the earliest opportunity this term. He also wants to share the important message he has relating to the riots last month with parents and families ... The video can be found at or from the diocesan website"

I have not seen the video message, I am still minus sound on my pc so I cannot comment on how closely the text follows the video clip.

But one thing is certain, the letter should never have seen the light of day.


  1. I disagree Richard (comme toujours hahaha!)

    I heard some life giving profound truths expressed in the Archbishop's words.
    I love him (we are suppposed to love our Bishop's). As for his grammar mishaps, I'm no expert me'self, so I didn't notice. However, I did hear that conscious knowledge and recognition of how precious I am in God's eyes will affect my sense of self worth more than any person, place or thing can and also how I treat others. Real good Fatherly advice!! To love my neighbour as myself (as commanded by Jesus Christ, I have to be able to clarify why I am lovable! He explained why. Wish I had been given this wisdom when I was a teenager.

    I have posted the video of this speech. It is exactly as typed here.

    PS God loves me! And therefore you too!

  2. Shadowlands - disagreement is fine.
    However, if a person in authority is going to address school pupils they should at least get the content grammatically correct and also make the address inspirational.

  3. Sounds as though someone has used the template of that hymn to self 'The Greatest Love of all', ie learning to love yourself being the greatest love of all. It's not playing in the backgound of the video, is it?

    Not even going to comment on the grammar, but whoever put this together gives a clear indication of what is (not) being taught about the Catholic faith in schools up and down the country and explains why lapsation is chronic.

    How can an Archbishop not mention that our first duty is to love God with all our heart, all our mind and all our strength? How can he not teach that once we have submitted ourselves entirely to God's grace then all else follows? This shoddy effort is counter to everything that the Pope is trying to teach.

    It grieves me to say this but it reads like it was written by a woman imagining God as some doting old grandad.

    Poor kids.

  4. Genty said:

    "How can he not teach that once we have submitted ourselves entirely to God's grace then all else follows?"

    I heard that truth expressed in this sentence.

    "It is God’s life that is within you, the supreme gift that you have received. When you understand this, everything changes."

    I think when we start off disliking someone (in this case our country's Archbishop), anything they say can be misconstrued. Other clerics, on the other hand, who's brand of catholicism fits in with our own, when they say upsetting things, can be deemed as being humorous. We all do this, myself included. Pondering it, I guess it's all just down to personal opinions and perceptions in the end, although in that sense, we become very protestant, what with personal interpretation and all that jazz!

    If his own church is against him, the Archbishop's message certainly will be watered down. I still intend to defend my church/faith and her leaders, appointed by the Holy Father under guidance of the Holy Spirit (we do still believe that?). I've been defending it for years with non-catholics, so no problem for me, to do so with laity inside the church(unless there's another catholicism I haven't heard about....yet?).

    "It grieves me to say this but it reads like it was written by a woman imagining God as some doting old grandad."

    Mmmm... that comment says quite a lot to me, in itself Genty. It's rather sexist and patronising, to be frank. Don't men imagine God in tender type ways? Or is it only women who's images can be 'flawed' in this manner?

    How would you have responded to Our Lord, had you been with Him, when He said this:

    "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing."

    Matthew 23:37

    By the way Genty, I am only trying to debate, not argue. It's all Richard's fault for bringing up controversial issues. ;)

  5. I do want to discuss this issue generally but, before I start I do want to at least commend VIN+ for this part of the statement:

    "What you see is someone expressed in this truth, on which you can rely: ‘Before you were born God called you. From your mother’s womb God pronounced your name.’ (Jer.49.1)

    There it is. You are a child of God. That is who you see each morning in the mirror. It is God’s life that is within you, the supreme gift that you have received. When you understand this, everything changes".

    This part is quite profound (it struck me as much in the video) and I do hope that he did write it. If he didn't he should have. It is an extremely spiritual statement which most school children would probably never heard.

    Before I start, this is not a criticism of you. You are right to hightlight VIN+ and his lack of witness on the public stage (there are no excuses for him). It is a bit of a criticism of Catholic blogs per se (I am equally as guilty myself).

    To be honest my head is beginning to spin a bit (or should I say a lot). It seems that in the last 6 months the finger pointing has escalated in the blogs to the point that I personally no longer know who to trust in the Church and who not to trust in the Church (and especially laity run organisations).

    At this present moment I go on the assumption that I can trust Benedict, Daphne McCloud of Pro-Ecclasia and possibly Michael Vorris (well at least he talks a good game),I get the impression that Bishop Mark Davies is a safe pair of hands (until Ecclestone square get their hands on him?). In blog terms I tend to think that Fr. Ray is probably the best Catholic blogger out there (very balanced). It is also probably fair to mention people like Fr. Aidan Nichols.

    Beyond this short list I have got to the point that there are so many twists and turns in the plot lines that it is not so much that I can't spot the 'wrong uns', but that the story seems to change on a monthly basis. I have almost got to the point that I wish we had a list of 'the good, the bad and the ugly' to refer to (maybe James Preece could do that ;-) for us).

  6. I never said anything about 'disliking' our Archbishop. I may not agree with him, I may think that he is a poor exponent of the faith but I still have a Christian love for the man as does everyone else on this post (or, so I believe).

  7. I have greatest respect and admiration for Archbishop Nichols. I have met him only once. He is a very gracious man who's faith and spirituality shine. He is not arrogant, rude, full of himself. He does not brag, rant or judge. He is not unkind and does not malign others when they are not in a position to defend themselves.
    He is exactly what I would expect a man who holds the office of Archbishop to be.
    He does not have horns or a tail and yet too often in the realm of the Catholic blogsphere, he is pilloried, insulted and generally blamed for every bad thing that happens in the Catholic Church today, and it is shameful!
    I have no idea if the good Archbishop penned this piece or not, he put his name to it and that is good enough for me.
    Best we should put our energy into being more charitable and ask ourselves, are we really the kind of Catholics that our Archbishops would be proud of?

  8. We'll have to agree to disagree, Shadowlands. This letter is so far removed from my own catechesis. I look for the bit about sacrificing self to God (at which I am not particularly good). What I read is about self-respect. But surely the latter depends upon the former?
    If that is the intended message then it has to be explained better than a quasi-humanist context. Because respect is today's catch-all word construed as a right, not something to be earned and which can too easily morph into self-regard.
    We were given God's greatest gift at Baptism, shored up in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and by Confession and Holy Communion. But it isn't all about gifts. It's about what we do in return. This is where I think the letter falls short. It says very little about obligation. Obligation to God.
    Woman to woman, I don't apologise for my criticism of style and content. Rather, it's the tendency to sentimentalise God which, in my experience, resides more in women than men and is what brings me out in hives. It does lead to some very lively debates with my female chums, I can tell you!.
    Tenderness, I would propose, is something quite different; a most profound and loving quality in both men and women.
    The exemplar, I think, is Pope Benedict, who displays great tenderness and strength and appears not much consumed by self-respect. I do find it difficult to translate my love and admiration for the Holy Father to those who are not always onside with his inspired teaching, but try I must.
    Nevertheless, my daily prayers are not confined to the Pope but for all God's ordained that they will guide our young into the deep of the Catholic faith. I'm afraid the Archbishop's letter does not show a great deal of evidence that this is so.
    By the way, I also pray for the spiritual wellbeing of Catholic bloggers. Which, naturally, includes you! God Bless.

  9. Priest's Housekeeper - our religious leaders who teach young people have a very onerous responsibility with regard to catechesis. They must get it right. The salvation of souls is at stake. It is not sufficient to say "whatever is written" is acceptable.

  10. GRRRR

    "Thank you for listening to me. I ask that you take a copy of this message home to your parents and talk about it with them, too."

    That awful "now go home and make your parents Catholics, kiddies" strategy that has failed over and over and over again. Catholicism is an adult religion! It's for adults! Children aren't going to be able to convert their parents to an adult faith. Time for a new strategy.

    All and all, I don't see any reason why you would suspect someone else wrote this. In so many other ways Archbishop Nichols has proven to be as pedestrian as any other modern bishop.

  11. I love no Bishop who allows homosexuals to prance around Catholic churches in "masses" especially written for them and their unspeakable lifestyle - as Archbishop Nichols does at Soho (and as Archbishop Dolan does in New York, and as do several other dicey Bishops). I detest this sort of chicanery, and I detest the cowardice in Rome that refuses to put a stop to these horrors.

    Archbishop Nichols needs to be prayed for, and then he needs to be fired, in that order.

  12. Aged parent said.

    "I love no Bishop who allows homosexuals to prance around Catholic churches in "masses" especially written for them and their unspeakable lifestyle - "

    Homophobia is a sin in the Catholic church. And sin keeps you out of heaven. So confess it, then you can tell everyone else, including Bishops and the cowards in Rome, how to behave. Who knows, god might have you up there on Judgment Day, advising.

  13. @ Shadowlands,
    I don't think you realise that the sin of homosexuality and like abortion are abominable in the sight of God, they constantly cry to him for vengence, its not a question of being homophobic! If it wasn't for good peoples prayers and penances holding back the Lord's hand, goodness knows in what worse state Our Beloved world would be in. Every sin has a consequence, therefore needs to be accounted for, needs reparation and healing, prayer and sacrifice.

  14. "I don't think you realise that the sin of homosexuality and like abortion are abominable in the sight of God, they constantly cry to him for vengence, its not a question of being homophobic!"

    I don't know why you have brought up sin to justify sin? Homophobia is condemned in the catechism, the comment made by aged parent where they describe catholics as prancing homosexuals is certainly homophobic.

    If you see this comment as justified, or the type of mocking cry heaven wishes to hear, then go right ahead. But don't call it Catholicism, because it isn't.

  15. @ shadowlands, your rhetoric is rather bewildering. We are speaking about the sinful and unrepentent lifestyle of the homosexual not condeming the individual or his weaknesses. It is certainly not like for like! The real redemption of the human spirit can only be reached by the complete reversal of instincts and only through the life giving values taught to us by Our Lord Jesus Christ - Man-God. The lifestyles of Murder (i.e abortion) and homosexuality cry out for vengence on every level.

  16. Anne, you find my rhetoric bewildering? This post started off about a letter and whether or not the Archbishop had penned it, not the sinful and unrepentant lifestyles of people, (some of whom may be homosexual). Then, his letter writing skills, or lack therof were discussed.

    Eventually, the comment by aged parent declared that he didn't or wouldn't love the Archbishop, because special 'masses' were written by the Archbishop for prancing homosexuals.
    I found and find this offensive and homophobic. Also, any homosexual person seeking to get closer to the God who made him/her and loves them, to the point of giving His life for them, would not hear that truth about their being affirmed in aged parent's words, they would hear the opposite, that they are an object of scorn to fellow Catholics, a person to be lumped with many and mocked, not an individual who God is speaking to as such, with love. Can you imagine the letter aged parent might pen for teenagers in confusion in this area, knowing his underlying attitude? You then find ME strange and suggest this means I do not realise the seriousness of willfully active homosexuality and abortion. I think your conclusions are ill founded and not thought out well enough.

    If this post had been about abortion, I would have given my beliefs on it. It wasn't, so please don't presume or assume what the latter is, in my case.

    Losing souls is the most serious sin. It is why Our Saviour suffered death on a Cross, for each and every man.
    It is why the Angel at Fatima was sent by God, tp deliver the following prayer, written by God Himself (if not God, who gave the Angel the words?).

    O My Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of Hell. Lead ALL souls to Heaven, ESPECIALLY those, in most need of Your Mercy.

    So, which sinners is God most keen to see saved? We all have our pet hates and ideas of who or what is the most truly revolting, but be careful to keep in mind, our own souls need to be made clean in order to see clearly the muck in other peoples and then love that mucky child of God, to the point we would die for them. Well, maybe not that much, that would mean we became like God the Father, when He looked at sinners. Maybe just stop mocking them from a great height?

    My words sound a bit offish, tone wise. Sorry, but I believe certain Catholics do a great disservice to many seeking souls by lumping hearts into groups.

    Anyway, peace to all here.

  17. To Shadowlands,
    You write with great agitation and bitterness in Spirit. You contradict yourself repeatedly into a frenzy of mangled delirium. If you are really concerned with salvation of souls, you sould see the point that the Church should be trying to turn people away from sinful ways, rather than being politically correct and confirming homosexuals in their sins.
    I hope you find Peace.