Wednesday, 27 February 2013

A tribute to inspirational Kathy Piper

Kathy Piper (3/4/1937 to 26/2/2013)

Former chair of the Brentwood Justice and Peace Commission and Central America desk officer at Catholic Institute of International Relations (CIIR) Kathy Piper has died at the age of 75.

Kathy was a fighter all of her life. She finally succumbed to cancer after a long battle. At first the disease was defeated and went into remission for some years. Then 18 months ago it came back. Kathy was always upbeat about the disease, determined to carry on but it finally overcame her.

Kathy’s had physical battles for much of her life suffering with bad arthritis and osteoporosis. Yet despite these physical afflictions she continued to work constantly for social justice.

Kathy was born into a traditional Irish family in 1930s Dagenham, Essex. She gave up the maiden name, Murphy, when marrying her soul mate Chris Piper. The couple had three children John, Clare and Lucy. The family grew up for many years in Chadwell Heath before moving to Wanstead in the early 1980s.

It was whilst trying to make some sense of Catholicism that Kathy came to dwell more and more on the social teachings. Latin American teachers like Dom Helda Camra, Jon Sobrino and Gustavo Gutierrez made a big impact. Though looking back, she always credited her former teacher Sister Elizabeth Rendall (died 2011), with sowing the seeds of justice in her days as a young Ursuline student.

The social teachings brought the faith to life for Kathy in a way that she had never known before. She took a degree en route to getting her big break, joining CIIR. Reluctant at first to cut familial ties and take on the new challenge, she was encouraged by Chris to make the leap.

At CIIR she blossomed, working under the tutelage of then general secretary Mildred Neville and Julian Filochowski. She was sent on an intensive Spanish course, an essential skill to have when working on Central America.

Over a number of years during the 1970s and 80s Kathy worked tirelessly going to and from the war torn region. She was often a fixer behind the scenes, bringing people together and often not getting all the credit she deserved. In the early 1990s, she played a key role in bringing Professor Noam Chomsky over to lecture for CIIR.

A lifelong socialist, the liberation theologians of Latin America brought her faith to life. Over the years, a series of Latin American visitors stayed at the house in Wanstead, bringing liberation theology right into the heart of east London.

Kathy had been involved in the 1970s and 80s with the creation of the national J&P network that eventually metamorphosed into NJPN.

So when Kathy left CIIR in the 1990s, it seemed a logical step to renew her work with the network. She became chair of the Brentwood Justice and Peace Commission. The Commission thrived under Kathy’s guiding hand, setting up working groups and holding study days on not always popular subjects like the Troubles in Northern Ireland. There was also groundbreaking work with refugees.

Kathy was always a great believer in the need for formation in the faith. I first came to know her when we set up a group in Our Lady of Lourdes parish, Wanstead called the Association for Relief in Crisis Areas (ARICA).

The aim of the group was to raise awareness and funds relating to poverty in the south. ARICA supported projects in Peru, India, Colombia and Kenya. Kathy joined the group contributing through her vast knowledge but it was the regular chats with her and Chris - usually over a glass of wine- that excited those of us in the group to want to do more. Kathy played a huge part in my own journey from banking to social justice journalism. She saw the need for formation in the faith and helped so many people down the years on their different paths.

As recently as two years ago, Kathy joined a group organised to develop a formation in social justice in the Church. The group foundered but her commitment to build Church was ever present.

Kathy loved the Church. She was part of the generation really excited by Vatican II. The opportunities it opened up, the challenges to be Church in the world. It inspired Kathy as it did so many others of that time to want to work for social justice as Church.

She was though saddened by recent developments, the closing in of the Church on itself. The shutting down of those inspiring voices from Latin America and elsewhere who professed liberation theology. She was particularly upset at the child abuse scandals, hurt that she felt the hierarchy never really apologised to the people for the damage done in their name. She felt betrayed.

Kathy will be sadly missed. She was a quiet inspiration to so many people. Her lifelong bravery when faced with physical challenges and determination to make a better life for the mass of people who inhabit this planet. She was also a proud mother and grandmother to John, Clare, Lucy and Ella, Kitty, Billy and Jack. She will though now go to be reunited with her beloved Chris.

* Funeral is 11.30 on Wednesday 6th March at Our Lady of Lourdes, Wanstead, London. E11

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Immigrants have earned access to public services

The ridiculous suggestion of David Cameron that public services could be denied to immigrants really does beggar belief. The truth is that migrants come here in the vast majority of cases to work. They pay their taxes, so have every right to expect all the public services that those taxes fund. The fact that many migrants, especially from the European accession countries, return without accessing any of the said public services is a bonus for this country.
It really is time that elected politicians started dealing with the reality of immigration rather than the myths being peddled about people coming to Britain because it is an easy touch for benefits – this simply is not the case.
The anti-immigration rhetoric of so many in the political class will encourage migrants to steer clear of this country. The effect is already being seen in higher education where tens of thousands of foreign students are now not coming here. What a sorry place this will be if other migrants who run the health service, care services, education, catering and transport follow suit and stop coming. This scenario might please Cameron and his UKIP rivals but the country will be a poorer place for it.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

A chance to open up the Church

The brave decision of Pope Benedict to resign offers an opportunity to open up the windows of an increasingly cleric dominated Church to the wider world.
The new Pope certainly has a challenge ahead of him. He will need to address corruption in the Church, including the ongoing disgrace of child abuse. At the heart of many of these problems remain the unaccountable structures of Church which need to change for the 21st century.
The hierarchical structure of the Church needs to be democratised, with above all clergy being made accountable to laity.
The hope must be that the new Pope turns out to be in the likeness of the great reforming Pope John XXIII, who opened the windows of the Church to the world and set in train the reforming Second Vatican Council. Indeed, the crisis at the moment is so great that the commencing of Vatican III may well be required if the Church is ever to get back on the right path
13/2/2013  Independent

Monday, 11 February 2013

Pope Benedict's resignation offers opportunity for change

The resignation of Pope Benedict offers an opportunity to reignite the spirit of Vatican II, opening up the windows of an increasingly cleric dominated Church to the wider world.

The Church has become increasingly insular, looking in upon itself rather than out to engage with the world in the spirit of Vatican II.

Sex abuse, homosexuality and birth control are all issues which seem to dominate Church thinking. Clericalism is rife despite the proven failings of the clergy in so many areas.

The new Pope certainly has a challenge ahead of him. He will need to address corruption in the Church, including the ongoing disgrace of child abuse.

Most importantly will be the need to change the structures of the Church, making clergy accountable to laity. Laity must be given real power in the Church as envisioned by Vatican II.

The hierarchical structure of the Church needs to be democratised and made accountable to the faithful.

* 11/2/2013 CNN - New Pope must open up windows of the Church and usher in Vatican III - see:

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Mid Staffs report should mark end of tick box mentality and return of caring ethos to the NHS

The report into Mid Staffordshire health trust seems to have focused very much on the need to punish NHS staff and managers for the failings. This is understandable but it would also be wrong to ignore the underlying factors that have led to the failures of Mid Staffs and beyond in the health service.

Central to the break down in care is the present tick box mentality that has destroyed the caring ethos in our hospitals. Tick the boxes and cover your own backside has become the mantra for those working in the NHS, not care of the patient.

This mentality has developed from ministers handing down dictats based on management theories that view every process performed in the public sector as measurable and akin to a factory conveyor belt. It does not work, not everything is about performance tables.
What the NHS really needs is to stop talking about patient centred care and start making it happen. This should include having one person responsible for individual patients as they pass through the system. This person can ensure the there is continuity of care and importantly that all parties involved are kept fully informed as to what is going on. Accountability and lack of communication are big failings across the NHS. Let's hope this report leads to some real patient centred change

8/2/2013 - Independent letters
                - Metro letters