Letters: The Catholic Church

The Pope and the bishops need to do penance

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Growing up as a Catholic in the Fifties and Sixties, I was taught that confession is essential to be absolved of sin. Essential but not sufficient – one also had to have serious repentance, and could demonstrate this (to God, oneself and others) by doing penance.

For the sin of abusing a child the Bible teaches that it would be better for the perpetrator that they be drowned. The penance of facing an ordinary criminal court in a country which no longer has the death penalty seems quite mild.

For the sin of being an accessory to abuse in the sense of sheltering and protecting the perpetrator(s) in such a way as to prevent normal criminal justice taking its course, and thereby allowing them to continue in mortal sin, the penalty of facing an ordinary criminal court also seems quite mild, but may be appropriate.

For who is there in the church nowadays with the authority to give these poor sinners the absolution such a penance could allow them?

Cardinal Brady should resign and hand himself to the authorities in Ireland. Pope Benedict should do the same in Germany and all the others who were part of this terrible affair all over the world should examine their consciences and follow suit.

It is not a question of others casting the first stone but of these men, as devout Catholics, by examining their own consciences, seeing that they have sinned and realising that they need to do penance. They don't need me, or anyone else, to tell them that. They, as priests, must know it before God.

Maureen McCulloch

Malvern, Worcestershire

The Pope's letter to Ireland's Catholics appears to have misfired on several counts, the most alarming being that his overriding determination to prop up the crumbling edifice of his authority comes across as his top priority.

He appears to think that the faithful may revert to the Church, in the teeth of the mounting evidence around the world of institutional cover-up of crimes for which he should now accept responsibility. What higher priority can his church possibly have than the care of its victims?

Someone should remind him that if you're going to be infallible, you'd better not make a mistake.

Christopher Martin

London W2

What should our schools teach?

Anthony Seldon's gentle admonishment of some of those involved in the Newsnight education debate last week ("Education goes beyond exams", 20 March) hit a few home truths.

The three would-be Secretaries of State were asked what education is for, and the answers were revealing. Ed Balls's imagination clearly stops at "for getting a job".

Seldon reminds us of the need to be far more optimistic and ambitious than this. Young people – all of them, especially children from less promising education backgrounds – need to be introduced to what Michael Young calls the "powerful knowledge" discovered and refined in the subject disciplines.

Many schools are being more than a little careless about the curriculum. Modern languages, history, geography – what we could call the "world subjects" – have been seriously eroded in recent years. The recently revised national curriculum in primary and secondary schools is weak on subjects in general. The curriculum mood music is "flexibility" and "skills" and schools leaders are encouraged to think tactically about what they offer children.

Whoever wins the next election must encourage more ambition. This should start with how we prepare teachers and what we expect from them. Far more emphasis should be placed on the curriculum and the fundamental "curriculum question": what should we teach? Today we may have technically highly proficient teachers. That's good. But it is not enough. To slightly misquote Seldon, how are we going to re-engage the minds, the hearts and spirits of our teachers?

David Lambert

Professor of Geography Education, Chief Executive, the Geographical Association


Michael Gove's proposals for the creation of new schools (alluded to in Anthony Seldon's article) are a recipe for disaster. He apparently wants groups of disgruntled parents, or charities, or faith groups, or corporate bodies to establish their own schools in disused buildings, by-passing local planning requirements.

These schools will probably be small and therefore costly to staff and equip. Their uncoordinated creation will create surplus places in mainstream schools, which again is extremely wasteful. They will be non-selective but as they will allegedly be popular and attractive, they will need admissions criteria. Will the children of those who have created the school get privileged access?

This is a crazy idea that will destabilise school place provision, which is already difficult enough even when there are local authorities to coordinate it. It is administratively impractical, socially divisive and disgracefully wasteful of precious resources. It is such an ill-conceived policy that it ought to be a serious vote-loser in the forthcoming election.

Peter Downes

Lib Dem Education Spokesman

Cambridgeshire County Council

Spare us more of Gordon Brown

The leaders' election debates are a further move to a "presidential prime minister", fusing the worst of the US and UK systems without their respective checks and balances, and likely to lead to more sofa-type governance, whoever is in power.

If Gordon Brown emerges the stronger and Labour wins re-election, his probable 18 years' uninterrupted dominance of the top two cabinet positions, and his powerful position to choose his successor, would be unhealthy for our democracy.

As well as emphasising the paucity of Labour talent since the early deaths of John Smith and Robin Cook, such a tenure would be unprecedented in 210 years since Pitt the Younger (not even Thatcher, Churchill, Lloyd George, Salisbury, Gladstone or Palmerston achieving it).

I doubt if that is the intent of those selective or "floating" voters who may be considering voting Labour, Lib Dem or Ukip; however uninspiring the alternative may now seem, new governing parties do grow into the job.

John Birkett

St Andrews, Fife

The French Jews who were saved

Andreas Whittam Smith gives a very selective account of the shameful round up of French Jews in 1942 ("To understand modern France you really must see La Rafle", 19 March).

It was never denied, and the culprits were executed after the war.

Moreover, out of a total of roughly 300.000 registered French Jews, 80 per cent survived, thanks to anonymous French men and women, including my own mother, who, in her modest way, hid three young Jewish girls. Some of the saviours were and are still being honoured under the name of Juste.

Not all of the children who were deported perished in the camps and some came back but have been very quiet about their sufferings. France is the European country which has the highest percentage of Jews in the population.

Janine Joubert Kempton

Epping, Essex

UK victims of the European warrant

Steve Richards heads his piece "The only question asked of Nick Clegg" (16 March). I think there is a better question for the Liberal Democrat leader.

Two south-west constituents have just been released from prison in Hungary. They had been in jail for 115 days in Budapest without proper charge. The legal mechanism by which they were carted off from their homes to jail in Hungary was the Liberal Democrat-authored European Arrest Warrant, which replaces extradition. Many more British voters will suffer from the European Arrest Warrant.

Less seriously, at the European Parliament on 10 March the Liberal Democrat Chair (Diana Wallis MEP) had me thrown out of the Chamber for making the entirely legitimate and valid political comment: that the appointment of the "supremely unqualified" Catherine Ashton as EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security is "bizarre".

Is this "Change that works for you"?

William (The Earl of) Dartmouth MEP

(UKIP, South West of England)


Beauty parade of leaders' families

I am an attractive, well-educated woman who buys her clothes at high-street stores and loves her family, including a delightful, photogenic and amusing teenage daughter. On this basis it would be very nice if people could send my husband, a lawyer, lots of work.

It's not a good argument, is it? So why is it thought by political parties, pollsters and the media alike that news of the Cameron pregnancy will boost the Tories' standing with the electorate?

If it is just wishful thinking then it is an insult to voters; if there is even a grain of truth in it then I think it's time I emigrated somewhere where important political decisions, like who to vote for, are made on the basis of the policies offered, not on the domestic arrangements of the party leaders. Any suggestions?

Kathy Moyse

Cobham, Surrey

You can vote, but you can't

Your report that "Logistical problems threaten to leave forces without a vote" (20 March) applies to all expatriate Britons who are registered as "overseas electors". The Electoral Registration Officer at Erewash Borough Council recently confirmed that I could vote, but pointed out that I probably wouldn't be able to because the ballot papers cannot be sent out in time for them to be returned by the deadline.

The Electoral Commission appears to be baffled about what to do, but it seems to me that the answer is obvious: amend the electoral legislation so that ballot papers can be sent out earlier. Other countries take pride in the fact that their citizens can vote without logistical hindrances, wherever they live.

Lyn Atterbury

Szydlowo, Poland

Out of the frying pan...

Ruth Harrison asks why menus say "pan-fried" instead of just "fried" (letter, 23 March). When did she last visit her local chippy? Is she really so divorced from the realities of commercial cuisine that she has never heard of "deep-fried" food, or witnessed the vast steel vats of sizzling oil that lurk behind many a greasy counter?

Can she object to the restaurateurs' desire to imply a more caring and individual approach with the words "pan-fried"?

Christopher Dawes

London W11

These would of course be Scottish menus, Watson. Pan-fried, not deep-fried, as in Mars bars.

Nigel Cubbage

Merstham, Surrey


Just bragging

Am I innocent or have the three ex-ministers been provoked by Channel 4 into no more than playground bragging? They can simply prove their innocence by supplying their income tax returns.

Ian Hall

Portland, Dorset

Creative accounting

If off-balance-sheet accounting became illegal (Nicholas Jones, 22 March), the Government would be forced to own up to the extent of its Private Finance Initiative commitments, and all the "creative accounting" wheezes used. Before the term "credit crunch" became common parlance, figures in the hundreds of billions, over the next 30 years, were being quoted. Dream on, Mr Jones.

S Lawton

Kirklington, Oxfordshire


You report ("Authors, they're all just jealous, bitchy backbiters", 20 March) that "[Norman] Mailer also stabbed [Gore] Vidal's second wife in the back. Literally." This is not an accurate tale of bitchy backbiting, as Gore Vidal never had a first wife, let alone a second one. It's a good story though.

Patrick O'Byrne


Award is no joke

I'm confused. There is an Olivier Award (report, 22 March) for Best New Play and a separate Olivier Award for Best New Comedy. When did a comedy stop being a play? Is a play now restricted to earnest explorations of serious situations? Judging by the comparative coverage given to the winners, a comedy is not regarded as having the same value as a play. Very strange. I feel that a good dose of laughter is more likely to do people good than the intellectual posturing of many "plays".

Stuart Fortey


De minimis

Philip Hensher (22 March) is spot on when he condemns disciplinary action over trivialities, citing the case of a man taken to court for eating a colleague's biscuits. This style is proliferating throughout British industry; it's easier than resolving production issues.

R W McMillan

Stoke on Trent

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