A Catholic MP, Carol Monaghan, appeared at a committee meeting on Ash Wednesday with a cross on her forehead. She had, of course, been to Mass and in common with thousands of other Catholics that day, including me, had received the ashes.
My reaction when I saw it was to admire the precision of her priest in producing so unmistakable a cross. I usually end up with a smudge, prompting kind souls to tell me that I have a mark on my brow and asking if I need a tissue to wipe it off.
The reaction of the ignoramuses at the BBC was rather different, and that mighty corporation asked on Facebook if it was “appropriate” for an MP to appear in committee with a cross on her forehead. Can anybody seriously imagine the BBC asking if it was appropriate for a Muslim to appear wearing a hijab, or a Sikh a turban?
Of course the Beeb wouldn’t do that, because it might give offence to other faiths – but apparently it is free to offend Christians. Every phobia is a crime except Christianophobia. Nevertheless, I suspect the cause here to have been less prejudice than ignorance, because religious literacy is at an all-time low in this country and sometimes the consequences go well beyond merely causing offence.
The Institute of St Anselm in Margate offers courses for religious leaders from all over the world and is now being driven by that same ignorance to relocate to Rome. Presumably that is bad luck for poor old Margate which, like many seaside resorts in this country, is struggling financially. Local employees will lose their jobs and nearby providers of food and beverages will lose custom.
St Anselm’s has been driven out by a failure of understanding in the Home Office of religious life. Officials seem unable to comprehend that, for example, African nuns do not have bank accounts and Catholic priests cannot adduce wives and families as evidence of an incentive to return home after their studies.
How to continue reading…
This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week
The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection