Nick Benson


Never mind the smear stories, Jacob, put your faith into practice

By Caroline Farrow

Catholic MP Jacob Rees-Mogg must pose more of a threat to the Labour party than they are admitting, after a team at the Sunday Mirror attempted to smear him with allegations that he is profiting from a company which manufactures drugs commonly used to induce an abortion.

This was meant to portray the Tory MP who many people are backing as the next leader of the party and country as an unprincipled hypocrite in the light of his recent remarks condemning abortion and use of the morning after pill, as a tragedy.

In fact, it only served to highlight the notorious untrustworthiness of the mainstream media: the headline, which was splashed all over the front page of the Sunday Mirror and subsequently all of the televised paper reviews, turned out to be a classic piece of fake news.

As reported Rees-Mogg’s investment firm, Somerset Capital does hold a £5 million stake in the pharmaceutical company in Indonesia called Kalbe Farma which produces the drug misoprostol, one of two which is used in abortion procedures. It is marketed as Invitec and prescribed for the treatment of stomach ulcers and not abortion, which is illegal in Indonesia.

The only connection with abortion is that misoprostol is said to be used in illegal abortion procedures in the country. Therefore even if people were procuring the drug made by this company for illicit purposes, neither the company which manufactures them or Mr Rees-Mogg could be held responsible for this.

The misuse of perfectly licit and moral prescription drugs is a widespread issue and to blame Mr Rees-Mogg or the pharmaceutical manufacturer would be like blaming a petroleum company for the actions of an arsonist!

Furthermore, as Mr Rees-Mogg said in his defence, since becoming an MP in 2010, he stepped down from active fund management and therefore cannot be held accountable for the investment decisions of his managers.

It is not, in any event, his money which is being directly invested in this company but that of his clients. Any profit which his firm would make would be in the form of management fees and if clients feel strongly about the ethics of a particular investment or the company does not perform as hoped, then it is up to them to take their business elsewhere.

One thing Rees-Mogg has yet to get right in terms of how he presents his faith in the public square, is that he treats it as his own personal superstition which would be unethical to impose on other people.

Our Catholic faith might be a personal belief, but it is one which is fundamentally based on reason and therefore, even though he doesn’t have a hands-on involvement in his firm, he can still model ethical behaviour in the world of business for other Catholics and he’d be well within his rights to veto making money, even if it is indirectly from any business, such as an abortion provider or even weapons manufacturer, which so obviously goes against and undermines basic Catholic or Christian teaching.

Two things struck me about this story. First, it was a salient reminder to me as to why I would never enter politics, despite having been approached by a couple of political parties. It’s a dirty game in which every inch of your private life is dragged through with a fine tooth comb, grossly misrepresented and put on display for public consumption, so that voters may decide whether or not they believe you to be trustworthy. It’s no wonder you don’t get more women or people with young families in it.

More importantly, it was a reminder of the dangers of what Pope Francis might refer to as an overly-legalistic, or rigorous mindset. Immediately, upon reading the headlines, I began to read up on what constitutes a formal or material co-operation with evil in order to be able to take an informed position on Mr Rees-Mogg. As the facts emerged it became clear to anyone with half an ounce of common sense that he hadn’t done anything wrong and made me realise that sometimes, we need to trust our instincts a little bit more.

That’s not to say that Church doctrine is there to be ignored, or we should cherry-pick those bits we find easiest to follow, but that sometimes, citing the lesson of the law can come across as slightly Pharisaical. I’ve been both guilty and victim of this myself in the past. Making recourse to the code of canon law or moral theology can add authority and weight to your argument, it makes it look as if you know what you are talking about, but if you’re not careful, to the casual observer, to whom you might be attempting to evanglise, it just looks as though Catholics are blindly following a set of rules.

The rules may exist for a reason, namely because they are a reflection of what Christ taught us, of what’s there in Scripture and Apostolic tradition, but citing an obscure canon at someone is bound to turn them off. I’ve had someone do this to me, in a (futile) attempt to demonstrate that I am a wicked sinner who must not be listened to on account of the fact that I might be sharing the marital embrace with my husband, which is, according to his interpretation of the law, banned on account of my husband’s priesthood.

The short answer is, that it isn’t, but it did put me in mind of Mark 2:27 and the law being there for man and not the other way round. If you are going to have married priests in a modern society, then perhaps an old piece of canon law needs a re-write.

This argument about legalism seems relevant at a time when civil war appears to have broken out in the Church, specifically over the issue of whether or not those who have been civilly divorced and remarried without an annulment, can receive communion, with both sides referring to theology, tradition and the magisterium and canon law to prove their case.

For what it’s worth, given the amount of confusion which appears to have been generated, my personal opinion is that Pope Francis does need to clarify, especially when he has a host of theologians claiming to speak in his name and claiming a host of contradictory statements all over the internet. One such example being someone stating a precedent for how Church teaching could develop, whereas previously we had been informed that teaching about marriage and the Eucharist had not changed – this was merely pastoral practice. Which is it? When teaching develops it never goes against anything which has previously been believed.

Of course we need the Church’s doctrine and discipline to buttress our faith and help us in our daily lives but did Christ need specialised canon law or convoluted interpretations of tradition to prove his case? Or was his teaching, especially when it comes to marriage, pretty clear?

Do we trust differing interpretations of theologians and senior Churchmen, or look to Christ and the Gospels?

• Caroline Farrow is a Catholic journalist and broadcaster

Picture: Jacob Rees-Mogg has suffered from fake news allegations in the mainstream media, but he should try not to represent his faith as a sort of personal superstition.