Greece in crisis -the Churches respond
Canon Malcolm Bradshaw, Senior Anglican Chaplain in Athens, writes for the Gazette:
It is like being in the eye of a storm but the storm does not pass.
The results of the election last week in Greece brought a momentary lull. No immediate tearing up of the EU/IMF ‘Memorandum’ with its accompanying ‘austerity programme’ is to take place.
Such a policy was advocated by the somewhat combative Syriza party. If it had won the election, and there was a fear that it might, Greece might even now be exiting the eurozone and entering uncharted waters.
Despite the elections, the austerity programme (or better, restructuring programme) continues in some form or other. It is now beginning to bite hard and will continue to do so.
Closed shops blight the shopping precincts. Open begging is very much on the increase. Chemists charge the full price of items on a doctor’s prescription, leaving the customer to apply to the National Health Service for a possible rebate. This has come about because the State has not honoured its contribution to prescriptions for virtually two years.
HOPE IN TODAY’S GREECE
Last week’s formation of a new government in Greece marks the beginning of a new chapter in the country’s history, but it will be a chapter dominated by the issues that dominated the last chapter, namely, austerity and recovery.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose – although the new Prime Minister, Antonis Samaras, has spoken clearly of the challenge the new government faces in terms of bringing hope for the future to the people of Greece. It is the kind of hope that many people in Ireland today also need, as they see their livelihoods lost by economic collapse.
Mr Samaras heads a coalition of his own centre-right New Democracy party, together with the socialist Pasok and smaller Democratic Left parties.
However, in addition to the internal differences within the coalition, the large, anti-austerity party, Syriza, which came second in the 17th June election, has every intention of being resolute in opposition. There are turbulent political times ahead. While the formation of the coalition government brings an end to the uncertainty that followed the earlier general election and the failure of the parties then to agree a coalition, uncertainty remains a pervasive factor in the situation. The fiscal challenges in the eurozone as a whole are relentless and the new government and the people of Greece face a truly uphill task in confronting deep problems and in changing people’s mindsets. The senior Anglican chaplain in Athens, Canon Malcolm Bradshaw, has written in his striking report for the Gazette this week, that “dysfunctional and bureaucratic structures” have long operated within Greece. Clearly, changing such a culture will be a vital early step for the country on its way back to fiscal viability.
The situation in Greece has brought much personal misery and has driven people to the edge of life itself, and even over the edge. While it is certainly true that there are worse national situations in the world, what is now playing out in Greece is a reversal of progress. Yet it is heartening to learn, as Canon Bradshaw’s article makes clear, that the Churches are making real efforts to meet the basic needs of the population in their time of crisis, not least in terms of providing nourishing food. This is where the Church can prove itself – by showing that it is not a cocooned, privileged world, but a community that sees need and responds in humble, practical service and thereby plays its part in rekindling hope in people’s weary hearts.
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Letters to the Editor
General Synod Resolution on Human Sexuality
Oh dear. I confess it was suggested to me that the letter from Changing Attitude Ireland (CAI ) members (Gazette, 15th June) urging our bishops and others not to delay in promoting the recommended listening process might promote another round of contentious letters in the Gazette.
However, on reflection, we felt it had to be written.
The mission of CAI is to uphold the dignity and worth of Christian people who happen to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered and who sadly have been marginalised in many Church contexts on that account. Their hurt is great and too often it has resulted in anger and alienation from the Church – and this is liable to get worse.
Our letter was intended as an appeal and a warning, but it seems to have hit a raw nerve in at least two people – those who responded to it in last week’s Letters page.
Of course I regret any offence taken, but I do hope that Alan McCann and Peter Hanna, who wrote the letters, are in a minority. Hurt has been experienced on both sides of this debate and I regret any hurt caused by myself to anyone.
However, surely it can’t be too much to ask that we take the trouble to listen, with compassion and without further delay, to Christians who have been alienated from the Church by what certainly has been experienced as hard-heartedness? Doesn’t the example of Jesus, who was sent to bring good news to the poor and in his earthly ministry always welcomed the outcasts, demand as much?
Ginnie Kennerley (Canon) Dalkey Co. Dublin
I refer to the letter from members of Changing Attitude Ireland (Gazette, 15th June).
Let me immediately say that I voted in favour of the General Synod resolution on human sexuality because I believed then, and I still believe, that it represents the best way forward for most people to continue to engage with this topic.
Such continuous engagement through Standing Committee or whatever, will, I believe, include listening. It must be continuous, from now, not waiting until General Synod 2013.
My main concern is to ask all in this process to treat CAI with the same respect that they treat others. I have met some of their active members and have read some of their publications. I am quite happy to use their preferred word ‘educational’ rather than ‘campaigning’.
I believe that they are reasonable and fair in their role of representing a particular group and if we fail to engage with them, there must be a danger that others with a more radical and potentially disruptive approach will replace them, as has unfortunately been the case on many occasions in England at both Church and wider social events. There, the tactics of an aggressive pro-gay lobby have caused real stress and annoyance.
It is for the above reasons that I have now applied to join CAI , in the expectation that this will further help me in the ‘listening’ approach.
Geoffrey Perrin, Shankill, Dublin 18
I was disappointed to learn of two bishops from the Church of Ireland who appear to have found difficulty in voting for the ratified motion put before the recent General Synod, which makes it clear that the sex act should only be between a man and a woman.
It is not at all clear on what grounds the bishops in question voted against the motion.
I always understood a bishop was a custodian of orthodoxy. We must uphold biblical orthodoxy.
By all means have dialogue with those who have a different sexual agenda, but I believe the Church cannot alter its standards. We must not lose the vision of the early Church Fathers or the faith once delivered to the saints.
Thomas McAllen Newcastle Co. Down BT33
Your editorial marking the 125th anniversary of Mothers’ Union in Ireland (Gazette, 15th June) was justly warm in its praise for the organisation and its role in the Church of Ireland.
From the 1940s to the 1970s, Mothers’ Union provided a vital network in support of the Church of Ireland Moral Welfare Society (later to become the Church of Ireland Social Service). The Organising Secretary of this body, Beatrice Odlum, was instrumental in having a short birth certificate introduced by the Irish State and short baptismal certificates introduced by several Churches, the first step in a long campaign to de-stigmatise illegitimacy.
She was also central in the campaign to introduce legal adoption in Ireland in 1952 and once legal adoption was introduced, the Moral Welfare Society constantly sought to have the legislation updated and the regulatory system strengthened.
The Protestant Adoption Society was assembled in the offices of the Moral Welfare Society and did much to strengthen ecumenism among Protestant Churches in the South.
In all this, Mothers’ Union was vital. It was through its branches that funds were raised to enable the Moral Welfare Society to do its work and through which that work was in turn communicated on a national basis.
Mothers’ Union was also a member of the Joint Committee for Women’s Societies and Social Workers. Through this organisation, Mothers’ Union partook in many political and policy campaigns, taking special interest in the campaign to introduce female police.
During the 1970s, Mothers’ Union was asked by the Minister for Health, Erskine Childers, to express a view on contraception as a Protestant women’s group, was represented on the Council for the Status of Women (later to become the National Women’s Council of Ireland) and ran a telephone service to link those in need with the appropriate welfare agencies.
It is not just the Church of Ireland which has cause to thank Mothers’ Union in Ireland and to congratulate it on its 125th anniversary. It has done service to Irish feminism and child welfare as well.
Robbie Roulston UCD School of History and Archives Belfield Dublin 4
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