Paul Vallely: Airing these extreme views now is spectacularly unhelpful

Wednesday 01 September 2010 00:00

Edmund Adamus really should get out more. If he did he might have a better understanding of the impact that his ill-chosen words are likely to have on the rest of the population.

To most people "the geopolitical epicentre of the culture of death" sounds like the factory where nuclear weapons were manufactured at the height of the Cold War. And a "wasteland" sounds like what would be left if they all exploded.

But Mr Adamus, director of the Pastoral Affairs Department in the Catholic diocese of Westminster, is talking about something very different. Even so, the vision he outlines is significantly at odds with the views of his boss, Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster and leader of Britain's Catholics. Nichols recently described British society as a lot less secular than people like Mr Adamus suppose.

There are two problems here. The first is that Mr Adamus is one of a handful of extreme conservatives in a position of small authority within the Catholic Church in England. The second is that he is talking in highly dense and specialised Vatican jargon which has evolved from teachings on sex which are rooted in the medieval language of scholastic philosophy.

So, a bit of translation might help. The Catholic Church sees an unbroken thread on the sanctity of human life which weaves its way through teachings on sex, contraception, homosexuality, abortion, IVF, cell research, poverty, international development, capital punishment, war and euthanasia.

The thread is "respect for human life", which extends from the moment of conception until its natural end. Pope John Paul II labelled it all under the umbrella term the "culture of life". Anything which departs from that in any significant way is, he said, part of a contrary "culture of death". In that it is the strong who decide the fate of the weak. At the bottom of its slippery slope lies the eugenics of Nazi Germany.

John Paul II developed a particular version of this called "the theology of the body" – of which Edmund Adamus is a particular adherent. He runs an annual lecture on it. It covers virginity and celibacy, marriage and adultery and the idea of the resurrection of the body. It suggests that the design of the human body tells us not simply how things are but how they ought to be.

Mr Adamus has allowed his extreme views to add things which are palpably silly. Whatever Catholic traditionalists may think about the past five decades of British legislation being progressively anti-life, anti-marriage or anti-family, it makes no sense to say that Britain is more anti-Catholic than countries like Pakistan, Egypt, China, Iraq and Saudi Arabia where Catholics suffer physical persecution.

All this is spectacularly unhelpful on the eve of the papal visit. The Catholic Church has insights to offer the rest of society about the dangers of putting materialist individualism before the common good; about social justice at a time of spending cuts. It has good questions to ask about the relationship between laddish culture and attitudes to women and sexual violence.

But that will not be heard above the indignation generated by Mr Adamus's incitement to cultural war. He is no doubt about to get a major ticking off.

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