WHEN I see nuns on the screen, I often feel embarrassed, and
wonder whether others in the audience have spotted that I am in a
One such occasion came recently when I watched
Philomena. This film tells the story of a mother searching
for the son who was taken away from her in the 1950s, while she was
held in a convent in Ireland. The beginning of her story is
horribly familiar from The Magdalene Sisters, but this
film shows the results almost until the present day.
A wonderful performance from Dame Judi Dench brings this
traumatised woman to life, and shows her single-minded innocence
brought into sharp collision with the cynical world of sensational
journalism. The journalists are bad enough, but the real villains
of the piece are the nuns - not only in their initial
ill-treatment, but in their determination to cover up the truth and
preserve the institution at all costs.
My community, like many others, used to work with "fallen
women", in Victorian times and later. Not long before I entered, we
were still providing residential care for young mothers and their
babies, and for girls in trouble.
"Did we ever behave, or think, like that?" I ask myself in
horror. Certainly not in recent times, if I can judge from the
reminiscences of Sisters who were involved in this work, and the
return visits paid by some of the "old girls". But in the early
days? Were we punitive and condemnatory? I can only hope that we
had a clearer perception of Christian values than that.
RECENTLY, there was an announcement from the Vatican that Pope
Francis had ordered a widespread consultation of the faithful in
preparation for next year's meeting of the Synod of Bishops to
consider marriage and family life.
"At last!" we thought. "They have realised that this group of
elderly celibate male clerics needs to profit from the wisdom of
those who have learned from the daily lived experience of marriage
and family, and have had to cope with its challenges." It seemed
too good to be true.
It was too good to be true. The consultation document, now
published, in the hope that ordinary Roman Catholics will respond
to it, is framed in such complicated and technical language that
only people already familiar with theological writing will be able
to make any sense of it.
Even worse, it does not seek to learn from those who reply, but
to discover whether they know and understand the current teaching
of the Church on this subject. The assumption of those who framed
the questionnaire is that this teaching cannot be changed, but must
be accepted as it stands.
Consult, listen, learn
THE Church of England is awaiting the publication of the report
of the Pilling group on same-sex relationships, commissioned by the
House of Bishops. The group has heard evidence from people with a
wide range of views, including some who are in such relationships.
The group's deliberations are, of course, confidential, but this
has not prevented widespread speculation about what the report is
likely to contain.
There are some who hope that it will be on the lines of the
Roman Catholic marriage consultation: in other words that, whatever
evidence the group has heard, the result will be a reiteration of
previous Church of England statements on the subject. Others,
though, hope that the voice of experience may carry the weight it
I am more than ever glad to belong to a Church that expects its
members - at all levels - to think for themselves.
Time to think
IN A recent diary column, I wrote about being ill, and the sense
of "indignant incredulity" with which I suffered it (16 August).
I ought not to have been so con-fident that this state of
affairs was now over. The Royal Derby is a wonderful hospital, but
this year I have become better acquainted with it than I would have
A few weeks ago, after a routine mammogram, I was recalled for
further investigation ("Nothing to worry about - in most cases,
it's a false alarm"), leading to a diagnosis of breast cancer,
admirably prompt surgery, and, finally, a reassuring "all
This sequence of events has, in Poirot's words, "given me
furiously to think". I have had to recognise how much we are all at
the mercy of accidents and unforeseen events. I have had cause to
be very thankful for the skill of medical professionals, and the
precious provisions of the NHS; and I would urge all women of the
appropriate age to learn from my experience, and respond promptly
to that three-yearly summons.
I am deeply grateful for all the love that has surrounded me,
and most of all for the Love that surrounds us all, whether we are
aware of it or not.
The Revd Sister Rosemary CHN is a nun at the Convent of the
Holy Name in Derby.