Friday 13 August 2010

The Pope, St Francis and Big Society

What fascinating things I'm uncovering in the archives down here in Taunton!

A Papal Instruction from Pope Gregory 1X with authorisation for collections for charitable purposes urges the faithful to seek their salvation by bequeathing part of their wealth to the support of pious causes,

"For the day of harvest should be anticipated with works of great mercy, for the sake of things eternal to sow on earth what we should gather in heaven, the Lord returning it with increased fruit."

That was 1215!

Nicholas Carlisle, writing a book on the origins of the great Brougham Commissions of the early 19th century wrote that,

"The origin of alms is of very early date as the kindness of man must always have induced him to compassionate the distress of his species.... from this copious source of commiseration have arisen those numerous establishments of charity...there is scarcely a disease which can afflict human nature or a want which the varying conditions of man can experience , scarcely a course of life for which peculiar aid is necessary or a casualty of evil accident or of the manifold visitations of adversity, but find an open asylum and a refuge for accommodation, reception, comfort, instruction and cure "

That was 1828!

It is also clear how the legal definition of charity has meandered down the ages, and sometimes strayed and distorted what we would normally see as charitable. For those quoted above the whole concept of charity is about bettering and supporting one's fellow human beings. Doing good works. Yet the English legal system, sometimes aided and abetted by a reactive or legalistic Charities Commission have constrained it; not least in sometimes reactionary views on the role of the sector in promoting radical causes and advocating and campaigning for change.

Yet that has also been a defining character of charity as it developed from the 18th century - early examples in the anti slavery and ten hours campaigns or the great charities campaigning against cruelty to children or animals. Not content with works to alleviate distress they wanted laws changed and said so!

It is also interesting to review the changing nature of the role of State and sector, from early times when the two were part and parcel of the same thing (the Church being the principal agent of charity) to post Reformation and the emergence of a secularised charity as the principal source of support, care and delivery with the state's provision limited to a minimal one around the infamous Poor Law, then to a growing realisation that the state has a major and dominant role in providing universal and accountable services to citizens as established post WW2.

But since the 80s we have an increasingly hot debate on the respective roles of charity and the State. Post war there was a political consensus around our Welfare State.

In a debate on the House of Lords in 1960 Lord Packenham said,

"In 1949 no one could be entirely certain how the Conservative Party would take to the welfare state or the Labour Party deal with voluntary services. Today the danger of a conflict on Party lines between the principles of the Welfare State and the principle of voluntary action has disappeared."

How that has now changed!
There is a strong threat that current party political divides around the "Big Society" will break apart that consensus and reopen the debates of the 19th century on the role of the State and individual and voluntary action in a way that is deeply unhelpful to our sector. Back to the divisions between the deserving and undeserving poor.

It is therefore essential for our sector that we resist attempts to co-opt us into a sectarian battle around State v Individual . Already the Big Soc slogan is being used as a dividing line in politics in a way that threatens our Independence. The essence of our sector is that it is "not directed by the state" as Beveridge wrote in 1948.

So our role in promoting the rights of citizens and communities, campaigning for change and reform and speaking out for the marginalised and disadvantaged must be protected and encouraged. The ever looming threat that cuts will damage our civil society means a sector that must stand up and "speak truth to power".
Lord Nathan, who headed an enquiry into the sector in 1950 which led to the Charity Act of 1960 said in debate,

"Democracy could hardly function effectively without voluntary action"

Or as Lord Packenham put it in a Lords debate in 1949,

"We consider that the voluntary sector is the very lifeblood of democracy....they must continue to render great and indispensable service to the community".

Well, I started with the Pope (and how appropriate that I have received an invitation to meet the current Pope on his visit next month!), so I will end with St Francis,

"Where there is charity and wisdom, there is neither fear nor ignorance".

2 comments: said...

Questions to ask Mr Ratzinger.

•Will he remove his church's pressure on the El-Salvadore government to print health warnings *against* using condoms?

•Will he hand-over files about criminal acts to civil police forces?

•Is the Cardinal Hume Centre still prioratising the housing of refugees from the offspring of african dictators, against more genuinely "HOMELESS YOUNG PEOPLE, BADLY HOUSED FAMILIES, REFUGEES, ASYLUM SEEKERS AND MIGRANTS, HELPING THEM TO OBTAIN EMPLOYMENT AND BREAK OUT OF THE CYCLE OF HOMELESSNESS AND EXCLUSION." as they tell the Charity Commission? (If no reply: tell Charity Commission. It's important because they are sometimes gate-keepers to social housing).

•Is the Cardinal Hume Centre still hiring young models from modelling agencies to pose as rough sleepers for its fundraising leaflets?

•Will the Catholic Bishops Conferences of England & Wales, and of Scotland, sign to pay the full cost of Mr Ratzinger's visit including policing in line with the hopes of four out of five members of the public polled? (I know that in theory heads of state sometimes get subsidised but this is a micro-state invented in a deal with Mussolini)

•Why has the press spokesperson for the Catholic Bishops Confence of England and Wales stated in an interview with the "Trouble with the Pope" documentary that "as a catholic" she has to state that there are holes in condoms? (I forget the direct quote)

•Why is the Catholic Bishops Conference of England & Wales pestering politicians, in its own words, the draft Equalities Bill "severely limited the right of the Church as an employer to discriminate on the grounds of marital status, sex, sexuality etc.": in other words they want to do things that are illegal for the rest of us?

•Also, has Mr Ratzinger made any response to the "Rap Sheet"? You will have seen the headings before and I recommend reading the linked detail if you have not done so before.

If you are not going to ask those questions, why are you meeting him and giving him the respectability on which his power and influence rest?

Headings follow - see link for detail

Joseph Ratzinger, a.k.a. “The Pope” is charged with the following crimes:

1. Opposing the distribution of condoms and so increasing large families in poor countries and the spread of AIDS
2. Promoting segregated education
3. Denying abortion to even the most vulnerable women
4. Opposing equal rights for lesbians, gay, bisexual and transgender people
5. Failing to address the many cases of abuse of children within its own organisation.
6. Rehabilitating the holocaust denier bishop Richard Williamson and the appeaser of Hitler, the war-time Pope, Pius XII.

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