Thursday 22 October 2015

Universities risk their degrees becoming worthless paper, in South Africa. #FeesMustFall #FeesRiots

I was excited, but also somewhat terrified. The buildings at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, glared down upon you as though they hid some secret. Perhaps the answer to death, or the secret of eternal life. Certainly, they seemed to promise wealth, a Midas touch founded upon a scroll of paper called a degree. I'd attended Wits, as a student of the place for the first time, for the entrance exam of my year. I had just recently graduated from Matric. There was doubt in the eyes of the University, as to whether the masses they had accepted were capable of passing University courses. Maybe less than a quarter of us made it through to the end of our degrees, despite the introduction of tutorials and classes on basic computer literacy, and on... studying.

The University was already quite clear about something. We were twice the size of previous groups. Throughout my time at Wits, new buildings cropped up across the myriad campuses. Venues were often not large enough for our classes, resulting in students having to stand rather than sit (I often sat with my laptop on the stairs next to lecture benches), and inevitably we were forced to also have lectures on East Campus. Many of the swiftly-hired, often-foreign lecturers were sub par, and there was always the chance of whatever subject you were taking being cancelled and moved to another year. Students from different classes would swap notes, and rightly so, as some lecturers became known for most of their students failing. I was often certain to get notes from what I thought were the most book smart students in other classes, and it paid off when I landed with the unfortunate black hole known as a fail lecturer - I was not surprised by the unexpected content of exams when I had not been taught a syllabus to pass them.

Lecturers told us that the government was forcing them to double their intake, and to often take on students they wouldn't otherwise accept. They did not believe the schools which students attended were in any way preparing them for University work. The high school I attended, fortunately, put great emphasis on what would be required to graduate university, and on average, many of our marks were about twenty percent higher when we took the IEB exams in Matric, which had been far easier than the in house ones we had taken.

Due to the high failure rates, foundations of South African law, and customary law soon disappeared from the syllabus. A spoon feeding of legal concepts was often adopted, and now the iconic LLB itself has been replaced.

Universities such as Wits rely on subsidies from government, which are consistently falling. They are also almost always under construction as the government has begun to view a degree not as something difficult to achieve and of real worth as an experience, but as a certificate every student must aspire to.

Like producing the Model Ts of Henry Ford, the government believes that if you follow the same process, no matter how many people you push through, you will always get the same results. Unfortunately, many students need something extra that their school education should have but did not provide. They do not receive a quality of education at University to uplift them from the poverty of the laxity of government education standards. Like sardines, they are shepherded to classes, and inevitably burn out: but not without becoming the victim of their student debts.

Like the consistent push to expand the electricity grid, without also pushing to build upon its foundations, the government has insisted on increasing university pass levels without increasing the standards of basic education. The result is both a dumbing down of education, and a scenario where most of the students who enter University will never graduate.

Even if it means that fewer students graduate, Universities should either have higher subsidies, or reduce intake to levels to where they are able to deliver a decent University education. Until the government allows either, we are stuck with the same scenario every year.

Every year I was at Wits, fees were raised, and there were mass and often violent protests, and the students who protested were excluded from campus. For the first time, with the latest fee increase, students have truly mobilized. They are violent, but unusually organized. However, their approaching of parliament and of the ANC is the most appropriate thing they have done yet. If fees are not raised, but subsidies are reduced, then so will the education level of our professional class.

They are South Africa's bare branches: with nothing to lose, but everything to gain. Like so many others, they have taken to the streets, and have adopted the same methods of protest that they have seen on television, and heard about on radio. The violence of the Rhodes Must Fall protests, gained the response they desired. Like a dry run, with an easier objective, student leaders no doubt saw those protests as a proof of concept.

There is a reason protests were able to spread so swiftly from Wits to the rest of the country. Especially in the bone dry economy South Africa currently faces. Lack of a degree in this economy can result in a lifetime of underemployment. Yet, if fees are not raised, and government continues to reduce subsidies, University degrees won't be worth the paper they are published upon.

I still believe that I gained a good knowledge of law when I attended Wits. I bought every one of the expensive text books, and took full advantage of the resources I was provided with.

I also greatly benefitted from English being my first language, while many students struggled to understand often foreign lecturers with strange accents that they could not quite comprehend.

I believe that the current graduating class remains on par. Those who do manage to pass final exams are as proficient as those who always have... but many burn out before that stage, and often these people had great potential. My parents paid for my education. Inevitably, those who like me, did not have to work to afford fees, and who like me were privileged to have attended a top private school, and to have resources to help them at home, were there on graduation day.

For many others, struggling to support themselves as they attended, it was a great and powerful achievement when they walked up to receive their bizarrely shaped degree on graduation day. The problem however, is that a good education costs money, money on all levels. If the government is not prepared to invest on all levels, then inevitably education becomes a commodity, or a sham, a scam to take the few pennies of people who if properly invested in, would surely join the best of our professional class.

Whenever the fees protests happened while I was on campus, the non-participating students had always viewed them as the protestors' last hurrah, a last loud noise before the protestors returned to their previous lives outside of Wits. This year may be different... but only if the government plays their part, and invests a bare minimum of tax money in Universities.

Sunday 18 October 2015

It is a violation to deny gay couples communion - Catholic Archbishop personally invited by Pope Francis tells press

The Vatican is undergoing a synod to discuss the topic of the 'family'. At the opening of the synod, a top Vatican official - Monsignor Krzysztof Charamsa of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith - declared that he was not only gay but had a long term same sex partner. He was fired for not adhering to the discipline of priestly celibacy. His statements however have caused many to remember the media-alleged reason the previous pope, Benedict XVI, resigned from his position. The Vatican rumour mill at the time claimed that the Vatican gay lobby had ousted him, and wanted to appoint the man who is now known as Pope Francis, to replace him.

Benedict XVI, of course, before he became pope, was instrumental in the creation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and was one of the bishops at Vatican II. He gained the nickname of 'God's Rottweiler' for his insistence on obedience to the dogmas of the Catholic church.

Butler's Lives of Saints, an old Catholic work, refers to the Catholic religion as the 'ancient religion', a reference to the founding tenant of that faith, that dogma cannot change, and that the church of Jesus' time, is the church of today. Part of that core of beliefs, centres around the provision of communion bread, which the early apostles taught, was only to be given to those who adhered to the gospel which they had preached. In the biblical letters the apostles wrote, they go so far as to claim that their readers should reject even their own statements if they contradicted what they had said originally. Taking communion while in a state of so-called mortal sin, was compared to re-crucifying Christ by early Christians. Among the other older Christian religions other than Catholicism, which do not have concepts such as mortal and venial sin, these still have sins that warrant a person not taking communion until they engage in a ritual known as confession.

Vatican English Language attache, Father Thomas Rosica, earlier this month, said that the synod fathers are supportive of 'an end to exclusionary language' and place 'a strong emphasis on embracing reality.' He states 'we do not pity gay persons but we recognise them for who they are: they are our sons and daughters and brothers and sisters.'

Following this press statement earlier this month, the Archbishop of Chicago Blase Cupich, who was personally invited to the synod by Pope Francis, has also now stated to media that pastors must give communion to homosexual couples, saying that their choice to take communion was from conscience and inviolable. Cupich has been fast tracked to his position as Archbishop of Chicago, and as he states, was personally appointed to the Synod on the Family by Pope Francis.

He also stated:

'In Chicago I visit regularly with people who feel marginalized: the elderly, the divorced and remarried, gay and lesbian individuals and also couples. I think that we really need to get to know what their life is like if we’re going to accompany them' and 'I think that gay people are human beings too and they have a conscience. And my role as a pastor is to help them to discern what the will of God is by looking at the objective moral teaching of the Church and yet, at the same time, helping them through a period of discernment to understand what God is calling them to at that point,” he said. “It’s for everybody. I think that we have to make sure that we don’t pigeonhole one group as though they are not part of the human family, as though there’s a different set of rules for them. That would be a big mistake.”' ('Archbishop Cupich lays out pathway for gay couples to receive Communion at Vatican press scrum ' by John-Henry Westen and Pete Baklinski at Fri Oct 16, 2015 - 11:51 am EST

During Vatican II, the Catholic church dogmatically declared homosexual acts to be sinful, while classing the attraction itself not to be. If the dogma of the church were to change as a result of Pope Francis' synod of the Family and subsequent declarations, it would be an unusual event in the history of the hitherto largely unchanging beliefs of the Catholic church.

Cardinal Sarah, who at the last synod meeting blasted Pope Francis in his opening remarks, arranged for the African bishops to meet in his country prior the Synod, in an attempt to prevent the church from changing its dogma. He has stated to media that he believes that most of the bishops are on his side. Cardinal Napier has expressed similar sentiments. The pro-dogma camp seem convinced that a repeat of the previous meeting, where a group personally placed in their positions by Pope Francis, drafted a document based on the meeting, which bishops later said had sorely misrepresented their statements.

On his trip to the USA, the Pope met briefly with a woman who was imprisoned for refusing to issue documents for gay weddings. The Vatican later stated that that was not an official meeting, and that the only official meeting at that location had been between the pope and a former student who is gay.

Patrick Archbold and a number of other well known traditionalist figures in the blogosphere, recently launched a petition calling the synod a sham and asking any 'faithful' bishops to walk out if it broke from tradition:

It states:
'Therefore, we faithfully request that each and every faithful Catholic bishop at the Synod, having made every effort to resist these attacks on Christ’s teaching, if its direction remains unaltered and those faithful voices remain unheard, do his sacred duty and publicly retire from any further participation in the Synod before its conclusion so as to prevent greater scandal and confusion.'('Synod Walkout' by Patrick Archbold et al at

Some traditionalists have begun quoting what they claim to be a quote from a mystic known as Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, which quote sedevacantists often use in their opposition to Vatican II, namely:

'Then I saw that everything that pertained to Protestantism was gradually gaining the upper hand, and the Catholic religion fell into complete decadence. Most priests were lured by the glittering but false knowledge of young school-teachers, and they all contributed to the work of destruction.'

Which comes from a longer passage credited to the mystic, namely:

'Among the strangest things that I saw, were long processions of bishops. Their thoughts and utterances were made known to me through images issuing from their mouths. Their faults towards religion were shown by external deformities. A few had only a body, with a dark cloud of fog instead of a head. Others had only a head, their bodies and hearts were like thick vapors. Some were lame; others were paralytics; others were asleep or staggering.

'I saw what I believe to be nearly all the bishops of the world, but only a small number were perfectly sound. I also saw the Holy Father– God-fearing and prayerful. Nothing left to be desired in his appearance, but he was weakened by old age and by much suffering…

'Then I saw that everything that pertained to Protestantism was gradually gaining the upper hand, and the Catholic religion fell into complete decadence. Most priests were lured by the glittering but false knowledge of young school-teachers, and they all contributed to the work of destruction.

'In those days, Faith will fall very low, and it will be preserved in some places only…'

Pope Francis, himself, is preparing the church for his statements following the synod:

'The Holy Father went on to say that each and everyone has a place in the Church, and that the key to journeying well together is listening. “A synodal Church is a Church of listening,” said Pope Francis. “It is a mutual listening in which everyone has something to learn: the faithful, the College of Bishops, [and the] Bishop of Rome; each listening to the others; and all listening to the Holy Spirit, the ‘Spirit of truth’ (Jn 14, 17), to know what he ‘says to the Churches’ (Rev 2: 7).”

'“The Synod of Bishops,” continued Pope Francis, “is the convergence point of this dynamism – this listening conducted at all levels of Church life,” starting with the people, who “also participate in Christ’s prophetic office” and who have a right and a duty to be heard on topics that touch the common life of the Church. Then come the Synod Fathers, through whom, “[T]he bishops act as true stewards, interpreters and witnesses of the faith of the whole Church, which [they] must be able carefully to distinguish from often shifting public opinion.” In all this, the Successor to Peter is fundamental. “Finally,” explained Pope Francis, “the synodal process culminates in listening to the Bishop of Rome, called upon to speak authoritatively [It. pronunciare] as ‘Shepherd and Teacher of all Christians’: not on the basis of his personal beliefs, but as the supreme witness of the Faith of the whole Church, the guarantor of the Church’s conformity with and obedience to the will of God, to the Gospel of Christ and the Tradition of the Church.”' ('Pope Francis marks 50th anniversary of Synod's institution' Vatican Radio 17th of October 2015

Whether this case of confusion is a case of the notoriously bad Vatican Press officials, who regularly 'clarify' statements, or a case of the direction of the synod being shown, is uncertain. What is known is that the figures who were placed personally into the Synod by Pope Francis, tend to agree with the proposals of Kasper and Marx, that dogma must either change or be ignored in practice. It will be interesting to see where the synod goes from now, and whether or not the synod and its follow-up result in a split like that which occurred after Vatican II, given that opposing forces in the Catholic Church have rarely been so vocal.

Either way, Pope Francis has noted that while he will listen to the synod, it will not be binding on him, rather he will need to be listened to after it, and obeyed. Some think he means to make a from the chair statement after the synod concludes, other simply believe he is stating that whatever the synod decides, he will still make his own voice heard, and it will need to be heard above it. Very Vatican I of him, isn't it? (Vatican I defined Papal infallibility as a doctrine.) As for whether a two millennia old Church will de facto or - per the change camp - dogmatically change its views on sex and reproduction and on whether it is sinful for communion to be taken when in 'mortal sin'... we the spectators wait with baited breath.

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